A promising premise based on adversaries trying to outsmart each other loses its way amid a flurry of unconvincing action.
For the first two-thirds of "Firewall," it looks as though Harrison Ford finally is ready to start acting his age. As the protagonist in this thriller, he's bent on outsmarting the bad guys.
Then, alas, he blows it all by pretending that he's closer to 33 than 63. The climax is pure he-man, superhero fodder, with the suddenly invigorated Ford intent on saving the world with his own two fists.
The premise is the oft-repeated kidnap-the-family gambit, most recently seen in the Bruce Willis thriller "Hostage." It doesn't really matter who the star is because it always plays out the same: The bad guys need someone to do their dirty work, so they kidnap members of the good guy's family and threaten to kill them if he doesn't cooperate.
In this case, it happens to Jack Stanfield (Ford), a bank executive charged with overseeing security on the company's computer system. His wife (Virginia Madsen) and two kids are taken hostage by Bill Cox (Paul Bettany), a high-tech burglar who demands that Jack help him hack into the bank's accounts.
Although the setup is hackneyed, the confrontation holds promise, at least at the start. Jack and Cox start an intellectual cat-and-mouse game in which each is pushed to match the other's cleverness.
It's director Richard Loncraine and screenwriter Joe Forte who run out of ideas. So they turn to the action-movie mainstays -- guns, fisticuffs and explosions -- in an over-the-top showdown that tries to make up in mayhem what it lacks in credibility.
Ford does a good job expressing Stanfield's angst, and Bettany reveals a nasty streak likely to surprise those who know him from the fluffy romantic comedy "Wimbledon." But Loncraine has done much better work, including Ian McKellen's exquisite adaptation of "Richard III" and a segment of the highly acclaimed TV mini-series "Band of Brothers." If we have to point a finger at a single individual, it would be at Forte, who has been given "story by" credits before but is seeing the production of his first screenplay.
The "firewall" refers to protective electronic barriers to keep computer geeks from sneaking into online places. It's an appropriate title in more ways than one, because this movie likely won't have a big problem with people trying to sneak in.
** out of four stars
Jeff Strickler 612-673-7392