1 out of 5
Directed by: Mark Lester
We just watched bullets from handguns, machine guns, truck-mounted guns, helicopters – y’know, all guns – bounce off of you, but I’m pretty sure this bullet from my gun will do the trick, so let me pause here to fire…
Such is the exciting logic employed at apparent Stephen King “adaptation” Firestarter – and I put that in quotes as someone generally far from enjoying King’s writing, but appreciating his creativity, and rolling my eyes at how butchered that spark must’ve been on its way to this screen version – in which it’s also wise to continually antagonize people with flesh-melting, brain-twisting mental powers, and not really take any precautions against that except, uh, aforementioned guns. Director Marc Lester would direct Commando after this, so, sure.
…Not that that has to be a knock, but the empty-brained action of that film is definitely previewed in the Carrie-esque overkill of Firestarter’s final sequence, and though that bit is some fun chaos, there’s a sense that the entire hour and forty minute lead-in is just padding to get to that feverish presentation; the movie is incompetent in terms of structure otherwise, parroting the book but not giving it any real grounding in filmic requisites: there are no characters, no scenes, no consequences. There are, instead, people reading dialogue – some good actors, but not captured / directed in a way that makes their various speeches or scene chewing matter – and sequences of events that can’t be said to really have any link from one moment to the next except that they happen. Everything is a checklist: introduce so-and-so; get person from A to B; until pyrokinetic Charlie (Drew Barrymore) and her father, telepathic (David Keith) are taken in by Martin Sheen-led government agency “The Shop” and forced to demonstrate their abilities for… reasons. Also there is “assassin” Rainbird (George C. Scott) who seeks to befriend Charlie, also for… reasons.
There is the aforementioned lack of care / logic this agency shows in terms of protecting themselves from mental powers and fire powers, and the movie’s mimicry of the book’s en media res opening – father and daughter are on the run; Keith has flashbacks, filling us in on the experiment that dosed him and his wife (Heather Locklear) with some compound that gave them their powers, passed on to their daughter – doesn’t add any urgency, but rather just makes it seem like the movie forgot to have an introduction, as there’s no weight to the chase, or Charlie’s accidental use of her abilities when flustered. Stuff just happens; whoops. There’s Rainbird; there’s The Shop; there’s a fire; whoops whoops.
Lester’s various employed effects to show the use of these abilities – fans blowing hair, sweat, clenched fists, some light flashes – have the sting of camp, and had the movie embraced this more, allowing Scott’s eyepatch wearing villain to be goofier; for Sheen to be more mustache-twirling – perhaps this could be the horror / thriller pairing to the campy Commando, but it’s like someone in the editing booth kept hoping to maintain a true connection to King’s work, so the tone and pacing are treated like a “serious” movie.
It is not. It flails, in slow motion, and not very entertainingly, until its fireball soaked ending. Which is very much too little, too late.