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Published: Friday, 2/10/2006

Movie review: Firewall **

BY CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Jack (Harrison Ford) reassures his family (from left, Carly Schroeder,
Virginia Madsen, and a partially obscured Jimmy Bennett).
Jack (Harrison Ford) reassures his family (from left, Carly Schroeder, Virginia Madsen, and a partially obscured Jimmy Bennett).
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Firewall, the new action film opening today, raises an intriguing question about Harrison Ford. And that is did you ever notice Harrison Ford and Steve Martin have become the same guy? Both started out light and raffish, but now the Steve side writes for The New Yorker and cleans up nice and the Harrison side appears to be a permanently irritated network anchor constructed from old shoe leather.

Behold - Martinson Ford!

They are never in the same place at the same time! Their careers have soared and stumbled! In near synchronicity! Rising in the '70s and peaking in the '80s! And yet they have never starred in a movie together, and I doubt - nay, I am certain - they have ever been in the same room at the same time! Much the way, for years, it was said Diana Ross and Michael Jackson (suspiciously!) could never be found in the same location at the same time!

Makes ya wonder, huh?

Someone leading dual lives?

Ford never made a true comedy (unless you count that supporting role in Working Girl, and maybe The Frisco Kid) and Martin never made a true action film (unless you count pratfalls in countless films).

And yet as both move into their 60s - besides their increasingly uncanny physically resemblance to each other - they find the only way they can keep an audience is by becoming a family man. Never mind that neither actor is married in real life. Martin keeps his movie families together with laughter and understanding; Ford, meanwhile, keeps his celluloid clans together by walking quietly and carrying a big rocket launcher.

"I want my family back!!!"

Is there another actor who has turned a phrase into its own movie genre? Let's call it the Iwantmyfamilyback Thriller. It's self-explanatory; rotten people threaten Harrison Ford's family and inevitably he lets loose with a growling, "Leave my family alone!" In the case of Firewall, that family is held hostage until Seattle bank security specialist Ford helps a thief steal $100 million. The reason these movies work well, at least at the box office, is the reason Martin's family films stay consistently popular: These two guys look their age. When they hit a road bump, they feel it in their corns.

And we feel for them.

But curiously, what the Ford pictures lack, including Firewall, is what the Martin pictures provide: some humor, and a smile.

Oh, ho hum, the details, if you must: Essentially what we have is the Humphrey Bogart movie The Desperate Hours rejiggered for the age of the Blackberry and identity theft. And as far as Desperate Harrison films go, it's standable, though laughably improbable: As Jack Stanfield, Ford leads the kind of idyllic world that rich people in movies set in Seattle lead. He has a view of Puget Sound and an architect wife (Virginia Madsen, making a nice return to studio pictures) and a couple of kids and a pooch and great big picture windows.

Life is disrupted when a mysterious British thug (played by Paul Bettany) reveals he's been spying on the Harrison Bunch for months. Every hole in his fiendish plot is plugged. Don't try to run (there are surveillance cameras). Don't go to the police (we're watching you). Forget e-mail (it's bugged). There are unforeseen complications (the bank has just merged with another bank and the money isn't kept there); a few escape attempts are botched. So to prove he's serious, the bad guy kills a lackey (which I love in movies this routine because predictably it shifts odds in our hero's favor).

Of course there is a way out.

Director Richard Loncraine just doesn't want to hint at it because it's too obvious, and because that requires a screenwriter to tinker ever slightly with conventions. As it is, Firewall gets by on the gloomy mug of Ford, a Hollywood classic so pained it never fails to be cozy - though now it doesn't suggest heartiness so much as the onset of brittleness. But there are a few dribs of tension, and if nothing else, the tech is good for a giggle.

Because no matter how savvy these people are, it comes down to a kick to the head. Which sounds right because if you were in this situation, here's what you would do after they sent you to work wearing a wire: You would write a note with a pen. You would write you are being held hostage. So is your family. You are being forced to rob a bank. These guys have cameras. And lots of computers. Their download time is, like, a second. And they don't even spend 45 minutes on customer support with a guy in India to make it work. Oh, they are professionals all right.

Contact Christopher Borrelli at: cborrelli@theblade.com

or 419-724-6117.



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