I’ve seen commercials for Firewall, a new techno-thriller, attached to various TV programs. What’s peculiar is that the commercials are all centered on what Harrison Ford’s character drives in the film. The announcer even says, “See the new Chrysler in … Firewall.” The weird part is that I’ve seen more commercials pimping the movie’s car than the movie itself, like the film is an afterthought to the product placement. With such an inconsistent, stupid, cookie-cutter Hollywood thriller that Firewall is, I’d expect nothing less.
Jack Stanfield (Ford) is a bank security expert living in Seattle. He’s got a loving wife Beth (Virginia Madsen), a teenage daughter and young son, and his bank is about to merge with a larger conglomerate. Before it does, though, Jack takes a meeting with Bill Cox (Paul Bettany) who has a very important business proposition. Jack will waltz into the bank he’s been working at for 20 years and wire $100 million dollars to Cox’s offshore bank account. If Jack fails, the men currently holding his family hostage in Jack’s home will kill them. To secure their safety, Jack must work different sides, infiltrating his own bank and breaking his own system, all the while trying not to get caught and trying to save his family.
The film is so cookie-cutter and filled with obvious and/or useless plot details. In the opening minutes we’re introduced to a remote controlled car that disrupts video frequencies. Of course we know this will come into play later. The opening minutes of Firewall set up all the film’s subplots that will be tidily tied up but only after being ignored. So little of this film feels fleshed out. Firewall seems to think that just having its villain be British is enough. Beth is an architect and designed the family home they’re now held hostage in. Surely this plot point will have greater significance than a toy car. Nope, nothing ever happens as a result of this extraneous detail.
Ford looks so bored and he does little to hide it. Once again he’s that reticent hero called into action in the name of his family. He really isn’t given much to do and his action sequences are short bursts that involve a lot of him falling down, even when he’s besting a bad guy. A perfect example of how bad the writing is, and how lame they’ve made Ford’s character, is an exchange between Jack and Henry (Robert Patrick) shortly after Ford has liquidated his company of millions. Henry confronts him and says, “You’re not going anywhere. You’re staying here!” And Jack says, like a whiny kid told to eat his vegetables, “No I’mmmm NOT!” Firewall, this is your hero.
The antagonists are another example of how poorly written Firewall is. The villains are incredibly inept on all levels. Their entire plan is kaput from minute one because they didn’t bother to check that the bank was merging and changing its security access panels. Bill basically points to Jack and says, “You come up with a plan now.” The villains need the hero to come up with their scheme, how rich. The bad guys come across like they just took night classes in How to Take Hostages and Extort Money 101. Somewhere Bill must have skipped a few classes because he makes some boneheaded decisions. He kills one of his own men for getting tricked by Jack during surveillance. I suppose he?s trying to make an example but why, if you’re holding people hostage, would you decrease your numbers from five to four? Now you have one less person to get things in line. Bill also must have missed a psychological review to screen out that old Hollywood favorite, the one reluctant kidnapper who’s nice. Did Bill put this thing together through an ad in a newspaper?
Then there’s the dog. Why on earth did the bad guys take the dog with them when they moved the family? It just so happens that the dog has a GPS tracking device on its collar. It’s a plot contrivance so Jack can find his family, but it makes no sense. These big bad men will kill one of their own but take the dog along too? Bill and the gang didn’t have to kill the dog but taking him doesn’t add up. It’s like a serial killer alphabetizing your CD collection.
The whole hostage situation is laughable. Bill’s thugs turn a hostage situation into a bed and breakfast, implausibly letting the family roam around the house, watch TV, do whatever really. Bill even makes pancakes for Jack’s kids, that bastard. The most threatening Bill ever gets is when he offers a peanut butter cookie to Jack’s peanut-allergy kid. Dastardly and, oh yeah, the kid didn’t have to choose to eat what the bad guy gave him! This is the worst hostage siege ever. It is insultingly ridiculous. Madsen is annoying as she tries shaming her captors, proclaiming motherly advice. Firewall‘s chances of thrills are spoiled by inept bad guys and the family being in laughably staged peril.
The heist itself is given such lip-service that it almost becomes incidental. It plays for a total of maybe five minutes onscreen and lacks any thrills. Why should there be thrills if Jack came up with it? There no reversals, no setbacks, no complications, no nothing. Firewall needed to be run through a typewriter a few more times, work out a punchier screenplay that actually turns the heist into something tense.
Firewall should have played more like a cat and mouse game, with Jack and Bill battling for supremacy. Instead, Firewall feels emblematic of every other stupidly plotted thriller Hollywood feels it can feed to a mass audience because it slaps a star in it. This is shamefully mediocre, stupid, and, above all else, rather boring. Firewall is your typical disposable Hollywood thriller-of-the-week, just with more tech jargon that Ford looks pained to even speak. If you replaced Ford and Bettany with, say Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Corbin Bernsen, you’d have a movie fit to air late night on TV when the only people awake would be insomniacs. Finally, then, Firewall would have found its rightful audience.
Nate’s Grade: C-