By John H. Foote
(BOMB) In theatres
Destined to be nominated for several Razzies at the end of the year as the year’s worst, Firestarter did not as much as spark my interest.
Is there an unwritten law somewhere that states every bad movie from the eighties must be remade? Bad enough we had Footloose (1984) and other goofy films redone but now we get Firestarter (1984) based on a minor Stephen King novel that was made into a bad film with Drew Barrymore. What I remember best about the movie is poor George C. Scott as an American Native, befriending the dangerous little girl who can start fires with her mind. The once great actor, among the greatest to ever grace the scree, had been reduced to this? He retreated to TV movies after this and soared as Scrooge in a beautiful version of A Christmas Carol (1984).
Charlie is the child of “special” parents who were the victims of government experiments that left their daughter with the gift of being able to set ablaze whatever she wants. And not a minor light a cigarette trick but raging infernos. And of course, the United States government, or a dark area of it, wants her. Imagine what a weapon this child would be?
Firestarter becomes a chase movie, with the bad guys closing in, Charlie lighting them up to run away and do it all again. It was cheaply made and looks it, and the performances are laughable. I try my best to give actors the benefit of the doubt because they are working with what they have, but very little effort is made here by anyone to rise above the junk. After an alarming turn as Ted Bundy for Netflix last year, poor Zac Efron cannot get anybody to take him seriously as an actor and here he is as the dad of this deadly little girl. Think about that, Zac Efron playing a father? Feel old? I remember my girls swooning over this kid.
After his wife is murdered by Rainbird (Michael Greyeyes), the assassin sent to bring Charlie in, the parents not so much, Charlie and her dad are on the run. And so on and so on. Greyeyes, a fine actor, is completely wasted in the film, and is not alone.
That is it, the entire plot.
Oh wait, the wonderful but ill used Kurtwood Smith shows up as a sinister doctor for the government (is there any other kind?) reminding me on his superb work in Robocop (1987) as an evil villain Clarence Boddicker. I love Smith, but he is wasted here.
Ryan Kiera Armstrong is a cipher, a void as Charlie, she is merely a plot device. There is nothing remotely human about her performance, which is not her fault, but rather her director. At least Barrymore could act, not a lot mind you, but she knew when to turn it on and off.
Is this to be the fate of Stephen King’s books? Remade terribly. It worries me for Salem’s Lot this fall, finally getting the feature film treatment after two made for TV films that strayed too far from the magnificent book. They got It right a couple of years ago, spreading the massive book over two films, and it was a remake of a TV film, here’s hoping they get it right in Salem’s Lot.
Firestarter is all wet.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.