Jack has an idyllic life, with a pretty architect wife (Virginia Madsen), who designed their lavish hilltop home, and two doe-eyed children (Carly Schroeder and Jimmy Bennett). But someone has been digging around in their bins, and Jack’s identity has been stolen and used on an internet gambling site. The garbage-sorter turns out to be Bill Cox (Paul Bettany), a techno-savvy robber with a gang of heavily armed geeks who plan to kidnap Jack’s family and hold them hostage as Jack lifts $100 million from his own bank and transfer it to an offshore account. And while Jack’s instinct is to try and foil the scheme, Cox has surveillance equipment to counteract his every move.
Luckily Ford’s grim-faced hero is also a quick-thinking technical whiz, so the game of cat and mouse (and dog) can begin. Nimble Jack can manipulate i-Pods to hold vast amounts of banking information, bamboozle television screens with electronic feedback and adapt fax machines and mobile phones, McGyver-like, with gaffer tape and chewing gum, into improvised technical patches or deadly weapons. This is far less fun than it sounds, even for nerds. The rest of the paint-by-numbers plot requires little by way of explanation. You have already seen it before, many times, with nothing added here but the contemporising razzle-dazzle that the new generation of consumer electronics can provide. This very basic version of the Ford movie exists simply in order to unfold, each step along the way leading inexorably to a predetermined outcome as familiar by now as his nostril-breathing fury, his righteous vengeance. Or his grey suit.
For a super-villain who knows, for example, that his target has a pizza delivered every Wednesday night at around 7, Bettany’s character doesn’t have the same level of knowledge about the running of the bank, some of whose systems were frustratingly “changed last week”, owing to the arrival of a hostile takeover’s advance Work & Motion team, the week before that you’d have to suppose. That flint-eyed squad of cage-rattlers is led by Robert Patrick, who suffers the indignities of the dialogue well enough, but never recovers from having Ford, almost twenty years his senior, tuck him in for the night with a single punch. He was standing in Ford’s way, something nobody can do in a movie since he shot that guy with the swords in the marketplace in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Given the same sticky end more than a few of his opponents meet at Ford’s hands here, Patrick should consider himself very lucky he got to duck out when he did. Ford’s knees might be sixty odd, but his fists are still frisky.
When not dishing out meaty vigilante justice, Ford looks alternately bored or uncomfortable. Bettany provides a little contrast as the British bad guy, suitably clipped and coldly polite, but the film drags along the ground when it has to stop to explain his convoluted plan. Madsen is entirely wasted as the good wife, as are Robert Forster as a security colleague and Alan Arkin as the bank manager. The kids remain anonymous. Director Richard Loncairne, who made a similar hames of the romantic tennis comedy Wimbledon, attempts to blend armfuls of familiar plot elements, a perfect family in mortal danger, a good man forced to do bad things to protect them, a complicated heist and a battle-of-wits between a smart thief and a smarter hero, but with little or anything new to say. Into this soupy mix of the familiar and the mundane comes plenty of ‘yeah, right’ to go with all the ‘so what?’ The third act’s descent into outright silliness had the small crowd I saw it with laughing heartily as what was an upgraded version of Desperate Hours took a sudden, fatal leap into Lassie Come Home. After this unintentionally hilarious and highly dubious plot swerve the film could never recover, with the remainder of the running time given over to the stuntmen who provide a tepid car chase and a lengthy, shaky fight scene at a remote abandoned farmhouse. The film doesn’t end, it stops.
Ford is hacking his way through something in Firewall, but it isn’t a high-tech computer system, it’s the simple goodwill of his unnaturally devoted audience. They have provided him with a long tenure at the top in Hollywood, an A-list status that is in serious danger of coming to an abrupt end if he doesn’t start producing the box-office. Hollywood movies are made exclusively for profit, and with his pricetag at around $20 million a picture, Ford needs to start selecting his projects with far more care if he is ever to see one again.