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‘Firestarter’ a lukewarm remake

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Stephen King is having a … well, what exactly? It’s hard to call it a moment when it feels like we’ve been watching a steady stream of adaptations of his work for years now. And you can’t really call it a Renaissance or a comeback, if only because his popularity never really waned in any real way.

Anyway – whatever it is, he sure is having it.

The latest adaptation (or re-adaptation) is “Firestarter,” based on King’s 1980 novel. This new film – directed by Keith Thomas from a screenplay by Scott Teems – is the second cinematic adaptation of the work, following the 1984 version that, among other things, helped catapult young Drew Barrymore into superstardom. With Jason Blum’s Blumhouse productions on board, you might expect a leap forward in quality; they do have a knack for solid horror offerings.

Unfortunately, this new version instead fails to capture the spirit of the source material, leaving the viewer with a film that – ironically – lacks heat. There’s a flatness to the proceedings that undercuts the possibilities inherent to King’s work; parts of the film feel rushed and/or unfinished, with those cohesion-lacking moments impacting the rest of the film.

It’s not a BAD film – I’d argue that it’s better than the 1984 version, though that might be damning it with faint praise – but neither is it a particularly good one. Instead, we get something that feels disposable and unnecessary; if you’re not going to try and do anything new, why bother with a remake at all?

Correction: if you’re not going to try and do anything AT ALL, why bother?

Our early moments are filled with flashback. We see a baby in a crib and watch as the child’s surroundings burst into flames, the implication being that the baby is causing it. The opening credits roll across a bunch of grainy VHS-type footage spelling out some sort of experiment involving human subjects, hallucinogens and mind powers.

Present day. Young Charlie McGee (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) lives with her parents Andy (Zac Efron) and Vicky (Sydney Lemmon) in the suburbs. Charlie is different – the kids at school tease her and call her weird – and she is struggling with strange feelings inside her. We quickly learn that Andy and Vicky are both possessed of strange abilities – Andy can “push” people into obeying him, while Vicky is telekinetic (though she never uses that power) – and that Charlie’s own innate gifts are growing … and growing faster than her ability to fully control them.

When Charlie’s ability – pyrokinesis, the creation and control of fire – manifests itself publicly and dangerously, we discover that the reason for the low-key lifestyle of the McGees springs from the fact that the shadowy agency responsible for the experiments – DSI – has been hunting them for years. And with new director Captain Hollister (Gloria Reuben) in charge, this evidence of the McGees is all that is needed to redouble their efforts.

Specifically, Hollister enlists a mysterious man called Rainbird (Michael Greyeyes), an assassin who shares some of the same abilities as the McGees, to track down and bring Charlie into DSI custody. Andy and Vicky are deemed expendable.

And so, we see Andy and Charlie go on the run. They’re unsure who – if anyone – they can trust, and so are left to navigate the world as best they can. Andy’s abilities prove helpful, but even that is a double-edged sword – each usage of his power causes unknown damage – while Charlie’s strength only grows greater, even as her control lags behind.

To have any hope of living a normal life, they will have to find away to rid themselves of Rainbird and DSI once and for all. Will Charlie be able to find it within herself to fight back? Or are the McGees doomed to be consigned to dark experimentation forever?

Among the many issues with “Firestarter” is the fact that not a lot really happens. This is a movie that is so enamored of its own expository explanations that it never really moves much beyond that. The plot – such as it is – is more a series of information dumps, with each beat serving more to spell out the details than anything else. There are a couple of action set pieces, but for the most part, this film is very much about telling rather than showing.

That wouldn’t have been so bad if the filmmakers had taken better advantage of the literary source material. Sure, it’s a lesser work from King, but even King’s lower-tier stuff has more workable ideas than the best writing from almost anyone else. Instead, we get a cinematic slog, a movie that manages to come off as largely empty while ALSO feeling interminably long despite a sub-100-minute runtime.

Basically, it’s more or less the same movie we already saw. And yes, it’s slightly more well-executed, but only slightly; it’s certainly not enough to justify the remake.

And that’s the biggest problem. This movie brings nothing new to the table, content to simply rehash the original film and call it a day. Even the more dated aspects of the book/film are left in, with the filmmakers seemingly bringing nothing innovative or inspired to the production. Even the promotional posters look stunningly similar; there really is a Pam Beesly “They’re the same picture” meme vibe to it all.

The performances are meh. Young Armstrong is OK, but she’s never really given much to do beyond some moments of targeted screaming. Zac Efron is … not a dad. He’s not there yet and I don’t know if he ever will be, but right now, his daddish efforts are more (unintentionally) hilarious than anything else. Greyeyes is suitably spooky, but you’ll probably find yourself wanting to know more about his deal. Everyone else – Lemmon, Reuben, John Beasley, etc. – is a glorified plot device, contributing to the ongoing exposition. Oh, and Kurtwood Smith – who I love – shows up for a single inexplicable scene that I can’t even spoil because it makes no sense.

(Note: John Carpenter worked on the score, which has major ‘80s horror synth vibes and might well be the best part of the whole movie.)

“Firestarter” isn’t good, but it also isn’t even bad enough to be enjoyable. Instead, it is merely inconsequential, a movie that will almost certainly be quickly forgotten and not missed. Rather than roaring flames, we get dying embers, a fire that barely began to burn before sputtering out.

[2 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 16 May 2022 20:30

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