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Friday, February 10, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Firewall": Tension, pacing take back seat to silly script

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 2 stars


Showtimes and trailer

"Firewall," with Harrison Ford, Paul Bettany, Virginia Madsen, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Robert Patrick, Robert Forster, Alan Arkin. Directed by Richard Loncraine, from a screenplay by Joe Forte. 105 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of violence. Several theaters.

Memo to potential kidnappers of families of banking-security specialists: Don't take the dog.

In Richard Loncraine's tense but too often preposterous thriller "Firewall," the unfortunate Stanfield family gets kidnapped by a gang of high-tech thugs who break into their elegant home and force dad Jack (Harrison Ford) into their scheme to steal $100 million from his bank. As plucky mom Beth (Virginia Madsen) tries to plan an escape and daughter Sarah (Carly Schroeder) whines and son Andy (Jimmy Bennett) copes with his peanut allergies, the thugs make a rookie mistake: They kidnap the family dog, Rusty, too — and this gives Jack just the plot point he needs to turn things around.

Now, I'm not going to tell you what exactly this plot point is (except that it inspired giggles from a preview audience), but really — why would the kidnappers take the dog along? Were they afraid Rusty would blab to the cops? Or later mention the gang unfavorably in his memoirs? This is just one of many howlers in Joe Forte's script, and it undermines the taut pace Loncraine creates. This story, ultimately, is just too silly.

And, at 63, you'd think Ford might be getting too mature for the sort of film that requires him, among other things, to scale the side of an apartment building like Spider-Man and to beat up a man with only a blender as a weapon, all while barely loosening his tie. It's an odd performance, in which Ford frequently lowers his chin and speaks in a guttural growl when challenged, screwing his face up like he's trying to look especially scary. For most of the movie, he doesn't scare anyone — even his secretary (Mary Lynn Rajskub) is nonplussed when he yells — but by the end he's become an unlikely hacker superhero. (Alas, not even Ford can make typing look heroic.)

Paul Bettany, as the baddest of the bad guys, seems to be the only person onscreen enjoying himself, as well he might: His character is evil incarnate, with eyes glowing scarily light. He's nasty to small children and even mean to Madsen, which seems unthinkable — she's lit so beautifully here that she glows like a blond angel. (You wonder what this woman is doing with dreary Jack and his chin.) Sadly, thankless roles like this seem to be Madsen's reward for her breakthrough work in "Sideways"; let's hope she got paid enough to finance a more interesting movie of her own.

Finally, local audiences will note with amusement that while the movie is supposedly set in Seattle, it's all too obviously filmed in Vancouver, B.C., with white Vancouver city buses rumbling through streets and a scene at the "Seattle International Airport" that bears no resemblance to Sea-Tac. Attempts have been made to disguise the locale, including a fake Seattle cityscape (complete with prominent Space Needle) outside Jack's office window, an obviously all-too-new "Pike St. Entrance" sign added to a parking garage and a constant downpour of rain.

But it's still not our city, and that's fine. We wouldn't necessarily want to lay claim to this movie, with or without the dog.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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