Cinema Signal:

Firewalls and Internet Security:
Repelling the Wily Hacker

. "Firewall"

The wide and growing use of technology to create and maintain security against theft has the affect of attracting those criminals whose purpose in life is to break in. And they're not just digital hackers. Smart key systems in the newest breed of cars, for example, has already been defeated by masterminds who have learned how to remove, bypass or reprogram the firmware that contains personal ID codes that allow the motor to run.

The other kind of desperado, who doesn't have the required level of training, forms a gang of miscreants who do. In this banking thriller, Bill Cox (Paul Bettany) has put together a team of Mercenary accomplices with the required expertise in order to transfer funds from computer security specialist Jack Stanfield's (Harrison Ford) Landrock Pacific Bank in Seattle to his offshore account via networking procedures that are highly protected. But, as the scenario shows, it merely falls back on the old fashioned case of enough intimidation. This could have been a Mafia operation except that he's only asking for $10,000,000.

Cox, after studying the Stanfields for months via hidden cameras, phone taps, and total dedication, knows the workings of the family as well as Jack's wife Beth (Virginia Madsen, "Sideways") and their two kids, teenager Sarah (Carly Schroeder) and 10-year old Andrew (Jimmy Bennett). Plus he's got enough personal data on Jack to highjack his identity and charge $95,000 in gambling debt to his credit card.

Home invasion style, Cox and gang take over and impress the executive with what he's got to lose if he doesn't fully cooperate. Jack feigns it as much as he can while trying to defeat them at every turn, even after they demonstrate their psychopathic level by shooting a member of the gang who made a mistake.

With escape never far from his mind, but with his family in great jeapordy, Jack finds a programmer's workaround to break into the system, defeat the very firewall he designed, and transfers the money. To do it, he and Cox must do a dance around Jack's fellow executives, one of whom, Gary Mitchell (Robert Patrick) is hounding him like a Rotweiler in heat--all the better to maximize the suspense.

Somehow, that level's been reached and can't be exceeded. The attempt to elicit mystery out of binary data and ID codes is diluted by its own need to remain comprehensible to a large audience, but also because it's been done enough to make it familiar. It's long after Sandra Bullock's "The Net" of 1995. Home invasion by gang is also a familiar and totally low tech framework (Bruce Willis' "Hostage," Kim Basinger's "Cellular"). In short, this comes down to such a level of familiarity that all we've got to hold our interest is the comforting presence of its main target figure, Harrison Ford.

Which is plenty. He plays the trapped everyman (with sailboat and a large personal fortune) at the mercy of a smart, desperate gangster with an effort that shows. But, the weaknesses of an overstrained premise and commercially acceptable writing won't bother everyone. There are plenty of folks who will find this dandy entertainment without once worrying about its many derivations.

Most of the parts are standard characters with good players only able to show how interchangeable they are with a dozen or so alternates in the casting lobby. This lot plays "family" in terms of what's scripted just fine, however.

One of the more interesting in her part is the irrepressible Mary Lynn Rajskub as Stanfield's secretary Janet Stone, on welcome hiatus from her Chloe O'Brian character on the TV drama, "24." Here, in a slightly more subdued personality that still imparts her unique brand of realism, her facially expressive take on a line guards her against a performance that could in any way be considered standard.

Paul Bettany, restrained by a fairly straight role, doesn't fall back on his predilection for theatricality ("Master and Commander: The Far side of the World," "The Reckoning") but, on the other hand, Carly Schroeder, whose natural appeal I so lauded in her performance for "Mean Creek" is just another of director Richard Loncraine's and screen writer Joe Forte's stereotypes. If this be high tech, I'd just as soon have my highly-derived thrillers stick to old-fashioned, smelly, touchy, feely analog plotlines.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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The script's light hearted, farcical qualities were pulled off by a well chosen cast which and made the movie enjoyable and entertaining.

                                                           ~~ Indira 

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