Review – Burn, Baby, Burn! (“Firestarter”)

As much as I detest remakes, reboots, and reimaginings of classic films, this one intrigued me when I saw the trailer. The casting, the overall look, and the fact that Blumhouse Films was behind it gave me pause. Could this actually be good? Nawww!

If you’re familiar with the 1984 “classic”, this film follows mainly within the same beats. 11-year-old Charlene “Charlie” McGee (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) is born to a nice couple, Andy (Zac Efron) and Vicky Tomlinson-McGee (Sydney Lemmon). But these two, in their college years, were subjected to experimental Lot-6, and now (like in the MCU) are now mutants. Andy is telepathic and can “push” others (force them to do what he wants), while Vicky is telekinetic. Charlie is an uncontrollable firestarter who causes fires when upset and may, or may not, have inherited both her parent’s gifts as well. Unfortunately, these three are forever on the run from the DSI, a government facility also known as The Shop.

DSI’s Captain Hollister (Gloria Rueben) wants them all captured and held for research, so she hires an ex-Shop employee and lethal assassin, Rainbird (Micheal Greyeyes), to grab ’em. After a botched kidnapping, Andy and Charlie are on the run again and meet a kindly old farmer (John Beasley) and his invalid wife, but doggone it! Rainbird attacks and separates Andy from Charlie, bringing daddy-dearest to DSI for God-knows-what. Meanwhile Charlie, suddenly on her own for the first time ever, gains several IQ points, becomes a superhero badass, and storms the DSI facility like Ripley going after the Queen Alien. Whaaa? When did this kid become an X-Men?

Scott Teems (Halloween Kills, The Quarry) has adapted Stephen King’s novel into one big jumbled dumb laugh. From the ridiculous and artificial dialogue to the totally stupid plot (which makes NO sense), this movie reboot/remake is a fiery disaster. People act and say things that normal people would never do! Example: Charlie and Andy can easily kill Rainbird (and for good reason), but they do the opposite! It’s a frustrating, idiotic retelling that is a waste of film, which you can see in the silly CGI flame effects that take the place of the practical fire SPFX that made the 1984 film so awesome. Cheesy, but awesome.

Oh, and let’s now forget the directing mess of newbie Keith Thomas (The Vigil) who jumps from scene to scene like he was late for dinner. Ugh! The only good points are the performances. Efron doesn’t phone in his role as the doting and frightened father to Charlie, and young Ryan Kiera Armstrong is excellent, showing a strong mature quality and great potential. Look for a nice short scene with Kurtwood Smith as Dr. Wanless and Greyeyes is remarkable as the steely-eyed killer. But, seriously, if you want to see this, just wait a few months. It’ll be free on cable very soon. Or you can stream it for free on Peacock.

**Now showing in theaters and streaming on Peacock.

Firestarter (1984)

Back in the 80’s, horror novelist Stephen King was on a roll, as many of his book-to-movie adaptations were pretty damn good (The Shining, Cujo, Dead Zone, Pet Sematary, Christine, and The Running Man). This one was no exception.

College is meant for studying and growth, not for sinister experimentation by the nefarious government agency, The Shop. Giving unknowing students a serum called LOT-6, many die from its horrible side effects, but two don’t. . . Andy & Vicky (David Keith & Heather Locklear). They marry and have a little girl named Charlene “Charlie” McGee (Drew Barrymore), who can start fires with her mind and occasionally see future events. Uh-oh! But even though it’s been nine years, The Shop is still after Andy for his unique mind-control abilities and Charlie so they can weaponize her fire-starting skills.

On the run, Andy & Charlie hold up with kindly farmers, Irv & Norma Manders (Art Carney & Louise Fletcher), but their happiness is short-lived as the bad guys attack the farm. Oooo! Bad idea! Charlie fire-bombs them as they flee, eventually holding up in a secluded cabin, but they are later captured by a psychotic agent named John Rainbird (George C. Scott). Both Andy & Charlie are held hostage at The Shop’s secret compound as they conduct experiments on a pissed-off Charlie, as she’s told she’ll see her dad soon by her new “friend”, Rainbird (in disguise as a janitor wearing an eyepatch. Why? That fake contact lense irritated Scott’s eye!)

Anyway, Andy manages to escape and frees Charlie, but gets killed, which angers Charlie to the point where she goes all nuclear on everyone. Even though King (and critics) hated this adaptation by screenwriter Stanley Mann (Conan The Destroyer), it made money at the box office. The pace is slow and the acting ranges from the good (Keith, Carney, Barrymore) to the absurd and over-the-top (Martin Sheen, George C. Scott). The director, Mark L. Lester (Commando, Armed & Dangerous) was quite vocal about his making this film; he hated it, especially having to deal with producer Dino DeLaurentis, who was a constant pain, plus the numerous problems on set.

Still, it does have some nice touches: it was all shot in beautiful Wilmington, North Carolina to save money, all those fires you see on the screen are real, not faked in any way (no CGI in 1984), and were extremely dangerous. Drew Barrymore beat out competing Heather O’Rourke for the title role (Heather would go on to play Carol Ann in the Poltergeist movies). This movie would also go on to spawn a forgettable 2002 miniseries on the old Sci-Fi Channel called Firestarter: Rekindled.

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