(PG-13) 2.5 Stars

Ed Johnson-Ott

Harrison Ford stars as Jack Stanfield

When the Stratosphere Tower opened in Las Vegas, one of its most trumpeted attractions was a rooftop roller coaster called "The High Roller." The prospect of careening up and down around the edges of the tallest building west of the Mississippi River was enticing, but the ride turned out to be a drag. The top speed of the coaster was only 30 mph, there were hardly any drops and the attraction was banked inward, so riders could scarcely get a glimpse of the edge, let alone a good scare.

The ride was a colossal disappointment that begged the question: What were they thinking? Did the powers-that-be at the Stratosphere really believe that the notion of a roller coaster on top of an incredibly tall building would be so appealing to the public that it wouldn't matter whether or not the ride was any good?

This brings me to Firewall, the motion picture equivalent of "The High Roller." What were the decision-makers thinking? Did they really believe that the notion of Harrison Ford in an action thriller would be so appealing to the public that it wouldn't matter whether or not the ride was any good?

Let me tell you, the most frustrating aspect of reviewing films is not dealing with bad movies, it's dealing with ordinary movies. And man, oh man, is Firewall ordinary.

Ford plays Jack Stanford, a computer security specialist at a Seattle bank who is forced to electronically rob his own company when his family (including Virginia Madsen, wasted here in her first big role since Sideways) is taken hostage by Eurotrash villain Bill Cox (Paul Bettany) and his band of thugs.

It plays out like this: Smug, smooth-talking Bettany and his gang terrorize the family. Ford grimaces and seethes, but obeys for a while. Finally, he switches to action-hero mode and kicks major Eurotrash ass. The end.

The plot is packed with idiotic moments, but so are the plots of many action-thrillers. The film isn't awful; it's simply lame and redundant. Why waste your time and money on forgettable fare like this when there are so many good action-thrillers available? See a different movie instead. Or take a walk, or toss a ball.

For the benefit of those of you who end up sitting through Firewall, let me tell you what I did to keep occupied.

First, I took note of Vince Vieluf, the nastiest of the thugs. I remembered when he appeared on Friends as a student of professor Ross Geller who tries to get a break on a test by claiming to be in love with the easily rattled teacher. Vieluf was very funny there. His performance here is strictly one-note, so it was nice to remember that he can be good when given a chance.

The other way I passed the time was by watching how the filmmakers hid Harrison Ford's neck. I saw Ford on David Letterman's show a few days ago and he has the turkey neck thing going on - a perfectly normal part of the aging process. But action-thriller heroes rarely have turkey necks, so the filmmakers go to great lengths to make sure we don't get a good look at the loose skin beneath Ford's chin. They use subdued lighting a lot, even in the bank offices, which is pretty weird.

That's how I kept from being totally bored. Of course, seeing Firewall was part of my job description. I had to sit through this terribly ordinary movie. You don't.

By the way, the Stratosphere recently dismantled "The High Roller."


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