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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Harrison Ford no longer action hero of films past

Before I saw "Firewall" last week, I had not seen a new Harrison Ford movie in over eight years.

The last one I saw was "Air Force One," the 1997 "The President's plane is missing!" potboiler. I really don't remember much of "Air Force One" except for Gary Oldman's vaguely disturbing facial hair. Oh, and I also remember Ford growling "Get off my plane," but then again, that is one of those catch-phrases that you don't easily forget.

I did see him in late 1998, but that's only because "Random Hearts" was filmed in my neighborhood. One day, during a break in shooting, I was out in my driveway shooting baskets and I saw Ford strolling up and down the street. Not knowing what to do about the megastar checking out free-throw shooting form, I turned around and waved at him. He waved back, and ever since then, I have operated under the notion that we somehow bonded.


In retrospect, it does seem a bit strange that I hadn't seen any of Harrison Ford's newer movies, especially after our brief encounter and the fact that he is one of the top draws in America. I can only guess that I had better things to do over the past eight and a half years than going off to theaters to take in the likes of "Hollywood Homicide" and "K-19: The Widowmaker." I can't be sure of that, though. The '90s are a blur.

When I left Harrison Ford in the summer of 1997, he was charming, handsome and heroic. Revisiting him now, in the winter of 2006, it is shocking just how much he has changed. Seeing him now is akin to watching the former MVP stumble around the outfield at old timers day while the announcers say, "Ah, Harrison Ford. I may be dating myself here, but he was a heck of a ballplayer back in the day."

To understand how far he's fallen, you have to understand where he started. From 1977 through 1997, Harrison Ford was probably the biggest movie star in the world. His movies may not have grossed the most (although they certainly did well), but in terms of pure popularity, he really was unmatched.

Both men and women loved him. He was rough and prickly but also seemed to have hidden depths. He starred in "Indiana Jones" and "Star Wars," two of the most successful franchises ever. He gave widely praised dramatic performances in "Regarding Henry," "Witness" and "The Mosquito Coast." In the Hollywood galaxy, he was by the far the brightest of all the stars.

In "Firewall", he plays Jack Stanfield, a solid family man who works as a security expert at a mid-sized Seattle bank. His world is quickly turned upside down when a gang of maddeningly incompetent thugs (led by the ruthlessly unappealing Paul Bettany) kidnaps his family and forces him to rip off the bank.

You pretty much know the plot if you've seen the trailer. I was hoping for hidden depths, but there aren't any, which is simultaneously maddening and refreshing. I pretty much had figured out how the movie was going to unfold, and when things went exactly the way I predicted, I felt brilliant, but also a little cheated. Certainly one of the biggest stars in the world must have better taste in scripts.

From top to bottom, the whole movie seems like the stereotypical Harrison Ford action movie, so much so that upon reading the plot synopsis, it sounded like a parody of the "My family has been kidnapped but nobody believes me!" genre. Personally, I've never been a fan of this particular kind of movie: They get me nervous, since I am secretly afraid that one day my wife will get kidnapped in a foreign country and nobody will believe that it happened (I have very specific fears).

It baffles the mind why he wanted to be in this movie, except maybe one day, while pretending to be attracted to Calista Flockhart, he looked up and decided, "You know, it's been about five years since I last played the white collar guy trying to save his family. Somebody get me a script!"

The thing that gets me about Ford is that he doesn't even try to stretch himself. Say what you will about Michael Douglas (who, in my mind at least, is the Sonny to Ford's Cher), but he takes chances. Sometimes these projects don't work ("It Runs in the Family"), but more often than not, the results are interesting ("Wonder Boys" and "Traffic," which was originally offered to Ford). Ford just keeps taking these same roles, even though "Firewall" definitively shows that he can't do them anymore.

I guess there are a few 63-year-olds who could carry an action movie, but Harrison Ford is not one of them. The most startling thing about Ford is how much his body has changed. I'm not talking about how much weight he's gained (although he does sport a full-on action paunch that calls to mind Roger Moore in "A View to a Kill"), but rather, the inescapable fact that he seems to have shrunk dramatically.

What's more disturbing, however, is that he isn't shrinking proportionally. He's still got really long arms, but they are paired with a torso that is positively tiny. He looks like a sweater you accidentally left in the dryer too long that is now all stretched out in odd places. Pair this with his puffy hair (which looks like it was cut with garden shears) and his craggy face, and he does not resemble an action hero so much as a very well dressed troll.

Perhaps sensing that this new Harrison Ford might not be able to hold his own against a truly intimidating villain, director Richard Loncraine decided to cast Paul Bettany as the heavy, a decision that was made only after Loncraine decided that a 12-year-old girl would be too powerful of an adversary.

Seriously, how could Harrison Ford not beat Paul Bettany? As a villain, Bettany doesn't match other Ford adversaries like Sean Bean, Rutger Hauer or Bonnie Bedelia, partly because Bettany makes the unwise decision to make his suave British villain a disorganized spaz, which really is not the sense of self you want to convey if you are going to play a heavy.

The only interesting moments come when Bettany faces off with Virginia Madsen, who plays Ford's wife, but those moments are only interesting if you remember that Madsen and Bettany's wife, Jennifer Connelly, had some pretty hot scenes fifteen years ago in "The Hot Spot." (I would have paid a lot of money to be present when Bettany and Madsen first met. Do you think Paul or Virginia joked about this, or did they just let the awkwardness fester throughout the shoot?)

Even though he is going up against an inferior villain, Ford comes off as a startlingly incompetent action hero, which was a shocking change from his "Air Force One" days. Back in the day, he used to kill terrorists with a single blow: Now, he spends a large majority of the time acting incredibly clumsy and being startled by innocuous plot developments.

There comes a point when every action star needs to hang 'em up, and Ford has long passed that point. Look, there's no shame in admitting you can't play the same roles you used to. Clint Eastwood, Kevin Costner and Sean Connery have all segued nicely into second banana status. Had he lived, Steve McQueen, probably the toughest tough guy of all time, would have done the same thing.

There are no second acts in American life, but there are plenty of chances for Hollywood actors to start over. Somebody needs to let Harrison Ford in on this fact.

Ray Gustini is a freshman majoring in political science and history. He can be reached for question or comment at [email protected].

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