Karen Is Held Hostage by Firewall!

by Karen Gsteiger

Mild to moderate spoilers.

My mother, for her birthday, had two simple requests: she wanted fish and chips at Bennigan's, and she wanted to go to the theater to watch one of her favorite celebrity crushes, Harrison Ford, in Firewall. The first request was pooh-poohed by my older brother, who scoffed, "Mom, everything at Bennigan's is so unhealthy," before we eventually settled on Bakers' Square as an acceptable alternative. But we did at least accede to the second half of my mom's birthday desires, and despite the fact that I wasn't particularly looking forward to seeing this movie or, indeed, planning to watch it ever, I happily accompanied her on her day.

Now, my celebrity crush on Harrison Ford begins and ends with the original Star Wars trilogy. I contend that Han Solo was the only character from the Star Wars universe who looked as though he'd be any good in bed. However, after oh, the last Indiana Jones film, Ford decided to turn the rest of his acting career into an impersonation of Mount Rushmore. He acts presidential even when he's not playing The President. A whole host of recent Harrison Ford movies (e.g., Air Force One, Random Hearts, What Lies Beneath) appear to be an exercise in his showing as little emotion as humanly possible. My mom's celebrity crush began with Witness and continues to this day, although she has been less than pleased with his recent cinematic efforts.

Firewall is a decent accompaniment to popcorn-eating, but I would hardly classify it as good. Ford plays Jack Stanfield, a bank security specialist who is forced by Bill Cox (Paul Bettany) to aid and abet him in a boring technological robbery while Cox's Evil Henchmen hold Stanfield's perfect nuclear family hostage. Jack Stanfield hems and haws and generally recklessly endangers his lovely wife (Virginia Madsen) and kids by trying to foil the plot or obtain help in a half-assed way that is quickly detected by the Henchmen. Stanfield utters a lot of gruff proclamations like, "I want MY FAMILY," or "You'll get the money when I get MY FAMILY." Later on, with the assistance of perky sidekick Janet (played by Mary Lynn Rajskub), Stanfield turns the tables on his attackers in a final effort to save HIS FAMILY.

Speaking of family, since when did my beloved mother and brother lose the ability to watch films quietly in a theater? Holy Jesus, they drove me nuts with their incessant chattering! My mom kept anxiously asking me "Do you like the movie?" from about two minutes into the film and periodically throughout. My brother is one of those reactive talkers, "Ooh! Don't do that! Don't go into that room! The bad guy isn't finished with you yet!" But since this film was less than enthralling, I guess it doesn't really matter. It's the togetherness that's important.

Anyway, back to the movie...it did have its moments. I enjoyed the way the film created tension and dread in regard to the little boy's life-threatening peanut allergy without being overly exploitative and heavy. I could finally watch a thriller without the seemingly mandatory rape sequence. Oh, and even though you keep waiting for the Henchmen to dispatch the family dog in a nasty way to demonstrate their super-meanness, they don't, and the dog actually has a part to play in the film's plot. Virginia Madsen always brings a warm quality to a film, even though she doesn't have much to do here other than be confined and threatened. I'm not entirely sure how her character would wind up with Old Fart Ford. If Hollywood is to be believed, all women hanker for men 20-30 years their senior (although I'd make certain exceptions...Eric Idle, David Bowie, call me!). Considering that actresses who are Ford's age have trouble getting their agents to call them back, I find this casting trend highly annoying.

Paul Bettany does an okay job as the Eeeeevil Villain, especially when he's treacherously bonding with Stanfield's young son. He doesn't really have the gravitas, however, to make a strong impression the way that someone like Alan Rickman can. He feels more like an Important Henchman than The Mastermind. He dies fairly easily for a chief villain, and his departure from the film leaves one with a sense of "Eh."

Actually, the whole film left me with a sense of "eh," but it's nothing more or less than what I was anticipating. It's a run-of-the-mill thriller that goes on a little long and features a more-or-less phoned-in performance from Harrison Ford. Nothing new there, really, because Harrison Ford has consciously decided to shed all humor and warmth and charisma from his acting since about 1993, when he was continually upstaged by Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive. I don't know whether Ford was feeling typecast as a smart-ass hero and wanted to appear more serious or what, but goddamn, Han, lighten up!

Regardless of the film's flaws and its sort of lazy mediocrity, we had a successful family outing. I need to take my mom to Bennigan's soon for her fish and chips, though. Let the woman live a little. Jesus.