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Firewall 

Mark Palermo on Ford, Martin and eight huskies.

Good actors can lend a movie credibility, charisma and merit, but they’re rarely dependable as a stamp of a quality product. Harrison Ford is a weird case. Through the ’80s and some of the ’90s, a Harrison Ford movie would imply a certain calibre of entertainment. He always made an effort to work with A-list directing talent and choose the sharpest scripts on the production block. At some point, his sense of quality control failed him. Firewall isn’t bad so much as undistinguished. Ford is Jack Stanfield, family man and head of security at a Seattle bank. His home is invaded by violent thief Bill Cox (Paul Bettany), who makes Jack help steal $100 million from his own bank. Otherwise, the penalty is serious harm to his family — a tack director Richard Loncraine plays at its most shameless when Bill takes unfair advantage of Jack’s son’s peanut allergy. Firewall doesn’t just succumb to the cheap manipulation of dehumanizing its villains and boosting viewer concern by placing women and children at risk, it even throws a puppy into the mix. As Jack fights for their safety, Firewall hasn’t established the value of family through basic concepts of unity and love. Instead, it’s a battle over property. Jack’s job and family are only symbols of his success — what separates him from villainous scum. Who cares about the plight of the have-nots, anyway? Real tension comes from when things are taken away from people who’ve struck it big. Bettany and Ford have the dynamic to be exciting foes. Ford can play this role in his sleep by now. He could just stand to be more alert when picking screenplays.

The Pink Panther

This “update” of the Peter Sellers/Blake Edwards Pink Panther films isn’t nearly as bad as you’ve been led to believe. Admiring The Pink Panther’s occasionally bright quirks, it’s also disappointing that the whole thing isn’t better. Rather than provide a Sellers impersonation, Martin and director Shawn Levy pitch Inspector Clouseau as a parody of what American tourists mean when they say the French are rude. Clouseau is dangerously self-confident for someone who misunderstands everything around him. “Do you know if the killer is a man or a woman?” he’s asked at a press conference. “Well, of course I know that,” Clouseau replies. “What else is there? A kitten?” It takes a peculiar sensibility to laugh at that joke, and it demonstrates how The Pink Panther never quite fits into its broad comedy confines. The main shortcoming is that the story — a mystery surrounding the murder of a soccer player and his stolen diamond — has neither the momentum of an arc nor a memorable comic centrepiece. When Clouseau and pop star Xania (Beyonce Knowles) rendez-vous in a hotel room, it’s set up as the kind of semi-risque scene that might have brought the house down in a Sellers or Austin Powers flick. But here, it’s over before it even begins. The movie’s light temperament is too charming to inspire hate. But it’s only offbeat when it should be hysterical.

Eight Below

Disney’s live action movies have continued through generations without changing their basic adventure formula. Eight Below: Inspired by a True Story has an unquestioning faith in heroism that will strike some as naïve. But it’s a conviction that children’s entertainment needs — exciting kids and returning older viewers to a pre-adolescent, pre-cynical, mindset. A geologist (Bruce Greenwood) and his Antarctic guide (Paul Walker) are rescued from a blizzard, leaving their team of sled-dogs to fend for themselves. Director Frank Marshall keeps the focus away from the human characters for what’s basically the canine cousin of March of the Penguins. Nothing in Eight Below makes its theme of risking loss for your friends feel revelatory. But it’s delivered with the honesty and life-threatening scare moments young viewers appreciate. Disputing its portrayal of the empathy levels of dogs is a waste of time.

Go ahead, dispute it. write: palermo@thecoast.ca

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