- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 9, 2006

A Harrison Ford movie comes out when the thermometer surpasses 60 degrees, whether he’s playing the president, an archaeologist or a gunslinger from a galaxy far, far away.

So why are we staring down posters in print for “Firewall,” the actor’s latest adventure, during the shortest — and chilliest — month?

It’s a sad day when the erstwhile Han Solo has to rub shoulders with the likes of “Final Destination 3” and “When a Stranger Calls,” two middling thrillers born to be burned off in February.

Winter is new terrain for Mr. Ford, and he’s here because his films haven’t crossed the $100 million barrier since 2000’s “What Lies Beneath.”

It doesn’t help the actor will turn 64 in July.

Action heroes simply don’t age well, a lesson 59-year-old Sylvester Stallone will learn the hard way when his “Rocky” and “Rambo” sequels hit theaters during the next year or two.

The new “Firewall” provides a reminder of the grim realities of Hollywood’s youth obsession. Although the thriller might be better than his wretched 2003 film “Hollywood Homicide,” it won’t serve as a fountain of middle age for the former carpenter.

Mr. Ford plays a security expert whose family is kidnapped by men who want him to break into a bank that uses his security program. It’s the kind of hostage yarn we’ve seen before — most recently in Fox’s superlative “24,” which regularly serves up more white-knuckled suspense than “Firewall” musters.

To be fair, Mr. Ford doesn’t look as somnambulant as he did in either “Homicide” or 1999’s “Random Hearts,” and a few of the film’s trickier elements come off as planned.

Still, movies like “Firewall” are meant as vehicles for untested stars to prove they can rise above generic fare. And did the film have to end with Mr. Ford’s character swapping haymakers with the head villain, played by the youthful Paul Bettany?

Mr. Ford ascended to action hero status, in part, thanks to the way he could take a punch. Watch the “Indiana Jones” trilogy or “Blade Runner,” and see how Mr. Ford’s face reacts to violence. It screws up like a fist, his rugged confidence wilted by pain. Sure, he’ll save the day by the time the theater lights snap on, but he always looks vulnerable getting there.

His characters rarely lost their senses of humor despite the most dire of circumstances — Mr. Ford owns perhaps the best line in the whole “Star Wars” saga. In “The Empire Strikes Back,” Princess Leia confesses to Han Solo that she loves him just before the rogue is to be frozen in carbonite.

He gently responds, “I know.”

The actor’s brooding mien has petrified over the years, and what once passed for soft-spoken now can come off as lifeless. It’s as if his off-screen self, a dour and unresponsive guest during countless couch visits to Jay Leno and David Letterman, finally took over.

Mr. Ford might have cushioned his fall from action hero icon to actor for hire had he dipped a toe in the independent film world. Burt Reynolds temporarily ended his personal free-fall with an Oscar-nominated turn in “Boogie Nights,” proving the “Smokey & the Bandit” star deserved a second look from critics and movie fans alike.

Mr. Ford opted against that route, preferring the big roles, and extra large paychecks, that go with major Hollywood releases. It’s a decision he may have regretted watching “Firewall’s” dailies.

He’s clearly capable of a career second act, witness his tortured father figure in “The Mosquito Coast” (1986) and his sole Oscar-nominated role in 1985’s “Witness.”

The actor still has a potential ace up his sleeve with the “Indiana Jones” sequel. Movie fans are a forgiving lot, and more than a few people who grew up on Mr. Ford’s films will be happy to see him and his cracking whip again, if only for old times’ sake.

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