It was Saturday night.
I'd just returned from a long-distance wheelchair ride for charity here in my home state of Indiana. Unfortunately, my screener for Firestarter had gotten lost in the hustle and bustle of cinematic life and arrived just prior to my leaving for my three-day journey.
Unfortunately, I also only had a three-day window to watch the film.
Thus, this dutiful film journalist sat down at my computer shortly after my arrival home from the 52-mile wheelchair ride and enthusiastically prepared to squeeze in this latest Stephen King adaptation and a film that I hoped would impress me more than the Drew Barrymore-led original.
By the end of the mercifully short Firestarter, nary a spark had grown from the screener and I felt more energy coming out of my 2-3 mile per hour journey across rural Indiana were even my wheelchair rubber hitting the road caused more sparks than come to life inside this unnecessary remake, a film sabotaged by a script from Scott Teems that can never decide what it wants to be and direction from Keith Thomas that never gives the actors anywhere to go.
The acting here is almost stunning in its awfulness and somehow manages to feel even more stale than Mark L. Lester's 1984 original that was far longer but at least had a game Drew Barrymore going for it. In the film, Charlie McGee (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) is the daughter of Andy McGee (Zac Efron) and Vicky McGee (Sydney Lemmon). During college, Andy and Vicky were subjects of a scientific experiments under Dr. Joseph Wanless (Kurtwood Smith). These were experiments that would have incredibly detrimental effects for most who participated, though with Andy and Vicky these experiments resulted in telepathy and telekinesis respectively. When Charlie is born, as we see early in the film, it's obvious that she has certain special gifts.
The nefarious government agency known as The Shop returns here, though with a different identity. This time around, Gloria Reubens heads it up and she enlists expert assassin Rainbird (Michael Greyeyes) to find the child and bring her back alive. Bringing back the parents alive is entirely optional.
It's already been widely advertised, thus no spoilers involved, that Rainbird will take out Vicky and this puts Andy and Charlie on the run.
There's your film.
Firestarter depends entirely on a sympathetic performance by Ryan Kiera Armstrong to give the film its needed complexity. Unfortunately, Armstrong is not up to the task partly because of her own limited range and partly because Teems's script just really betrays her. I'm also not convinced that Thomas has a gift for directing younger actors. The end result is a film devoid of emotional resonance or anything resembling engagement. Armstrong's Charlie essentially exists to burst into flames or kill people, both of which she does quite often. I never felt a thing for her or a thing about her. I never cared and I was never convinced that her own father cared.
Thus, I didn't care about the journey one iota.
Blumhouse, the production company behind the film, has typically mastered low-budget horror and thriller filmmaking. However, a good majority of Firestarter comes off as cheaper than the 1984 original film and far less convincing. In fact, the only thing that thrills at all is the score from John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel A. Davies. The film's failure doesn't rest on Armstrong alone. Efron's limited range has seldom been as evident as it is here. The same is true for Lemmon. Truthfully, no one here gives a performance worth remembering.
It's obvious that there's a desire to take this film somewhere. It plays entirely like there are plans for life after Firestarter, though it's hard to imagine that anything that unfolds here will encourage anyone to go along for the ride. Stephen King is now 74-years-old and has written some of this last century's greatest horror, suspense, and thriller novels only to be completely and utterly betrayed when they're brought to cinematic life. It's hard not to believe that at some point King will give an interview citing this Firestarter as one of the worst adaptations yet.
If you really want to experience a spark, come experience life on the road with me at 2-3 miles per hour. I promise you that I generate a lot more heat.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic