Harrison Ford's 'Firewall': Jack Be Feeble, Jack Be Stiff

A family under siege: Harrison Ford, Carly Schroeder, center, Jimmy Bennett and Virginia Madsen in
A family under siege: Harrison Ford, Carly Schroeder, center, Jimmy Bennett and Virginia Madsen in "Firewall." (By Diya Pera -- Warner Bros. Via Reuters)
By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 10, 2006

He was a Jack in "Working Girl," another Jack in "Patriot Games" and "Clear and Present Danger." In "Firewall," surprise, surprise, Harrison Ford is Jack again -- this time as a security-systems designer forced by criminals to crack his own codes and help them rob a bank.

The Jack motif is no accident. In the code of Hollywood, its monosyllabic simplicity signifies a no-surprises hero who believes in the moral Big Three: God, family and country. Ford has been playing this archetype -- often with a uni-grunt name -- for decades. He was Rick in "Blade Runner" (although he was a Dr. Richard Kimble in "The Fugitive"). He's been a Joe, a John, a Tom, a Bob and a Rusty. As a William in "Random Hearts," he advanced to two syllables, bless him, but his character's nickname was a simple "Dutch." (We seem to use the same naming rules for dogs.)

Unfortunately, as "Firewall" shows, Ford's brand of resolute action hero has become obsolete -- at least for him. Although the actor appears to be in great shape for someone turning 64 in July, the job description calls for vigor and virility. He looked physically challenged as early as 1994 when he played the espionage warrior in "Clear and Present Danger." By the time "Hollywood Homicide" rolled around in 2003, he was huffing and puffing as he chased after speeding cars. In "Firewall," he seems way past his due date.

Jack Stanfield and his family are held at gunpoint by Bill Cox (Paul Bettany), a mastermind criminal (and, of course, British) who knows Jack designed the security for a global bank. While his wife (Virginia Madsen) and two children are kept as hostages, Jack must go into work and finesse a way to steal the money and, of course, save his family and outwit the bad guys. Bill hasn't made things easy by sticking a video surveillance monitor -- disguised as a pocket pen -- in Jack's jacket. He has also set up Jack as a major suspect for the intended robbery, falsifying huge gambling debts on Jack's credit cards.

In the movie's early stages, Ford spends some time getting beat up. And at one point, he prevails in a physical fight with a younger man, just to show him (and the audience) there's a lot of fight in this old Ford. But the slick choreography only fig-leafs the beating Jack surely would have gotten if the script (and Ford's superagent) hadn't protected him.

Flagging energy isn't the only issue here; Ford has become enslaved in his own cliches. As we watch Ford reprise his trademark mannerisms -- including the twisty grimace, the steely look of resolve, and such familiar Harrison barks as "Who are you?," "What's this about?" and "What do you want from me?" -- we no longer enjoy the ring of familiarity. We just hear the tolling of a bell -- Ford's.

It doesn't have to be this way. With 40 percent of the American population over 50 years of age, and controlling the country's largest bloc of purchasing power, it's not just morally right to have 50- and 60-plussers well represented on screen; it's smart economics. Yet it seems like folly to cast Ford in increasingly inappropriate roles of yesteryear and expect younger audiences to flock to the box office, or even his older fans to fire up the family wagon and queue for parking, popcorn and 50-gallon sodas.

Had producer Armyan Bernstein commissioned a savvier script, one that made use (comedic, serious or both) of Jack's age, you might have been reading a different review. (Perhaps brighter scriptwriters will address this matter in the upcoming "Indiana Jones," slated for 2007, in which Ford will reprise his most macho role of all time, the bullwhip-cracking adventurer with the big hat and leather jacket.) The point is, why restrict Ford, or anyone else, to their tired, familiar routines? There are limitless stories to be told about life's later chapters, and the more Hollywood understands that, the longer the industry will thrive, and the richer our moviegoing lives could become.

Firewall (120 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for violence and mild profanity.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company