Posts Tagged ‘Drew Barrymore’

Movie Reviews 411 – Firestarter (1984)

October 25, 2019

Stephen King‘s cinematic legacy has always been one in which adaptations of his writing either fell in the “Terrific Film” category or “Dismal Dreg” cinematic swill bucket. You have your Shinings, Carries, Shawshank Redemptions and Mists against your Dreamcatchers, Maximum Overdrives and Thinners and there are very few that fall in between those extremes.

With an esteemed cast that includes George C. Scott, Martin Sheen, Drew Barrymore, Art Carney, Heather Locklear and Louise Fletcher, you could be forgiven if you presumed that Firestarter would fall in the “Terrific Film” camp. (OK, I was just kidding when I included Heather Locklear’s thespian chops as a selling point). However this is not only not one of the better adaptations but would easily vie as one of the worst.

Firestarter is about a young couple who underwent experimental pharmaceutical testing for some secretive government agency which resulted in long lasting psychic abilities for the subjects – well for those that survived the ordeal anyway. As both Andy (David Keith) and Vicky (Locklear) were test subjects, their daughter Charlene “Charlie” (Barrymore) later proved to have even more powerful faculties. As a “firestarter” with unknown limits to her increasing powers, the same organization that administered the drug trials are now deeply concerned and want to get her into their labs for testing. As told from a series of flashbacks, the couple, fed up being confined and tested have long been in hiding with new identities. Accidental firebursts from Charlie allow the men in black to find the family and in trying to retrieve the girl Vicky is killed. Andy and Charlie, now on the run from one crummy roadside motel to another find a brief sanctuary with an elderly farm couple, but eventually they are hauled back to “The Shop” for analysis, and possible ‘threat eradication’.

The list of problems with this film is longer than a Green Mile. An occasional trait of Dino De Laurentiis productions is that he sometimes opted for money and star power alone In lieu of a good script and production values for his film productions – the 1976 King Kong, Orca, and David Lynch’s Dune come to mind as prime examples. This was the fate here, but only the first obstacle.

Barrymore, somewhere between her “cute preschooler who can innocently repeat swear words” debut in E.T. and her current adult director/producer/comedy actor phase, seems to be merely putting on choreographed faces while memorizing lines and is clearly beyond her range. Scott, ever the hard-as-nails heavy is just that, but his macho demeanor and murderous intentions aren’t really backed up by any real threat so he comes off as a delusional psychotic. He inexplicably sports an eyepatch during the latter half of the film (apparently an eye infection developed early in production), but no attempt is made to reconcile it in the film. He also sports and long ponytail coif that is at odds with his military precision facade. Carney is the lovable grampa figurehead as the farmer, but I’m at a loss as to what Fletcher was even thinking as she cardboard-coasts her delivery as his wife. Sheen’s character as the guy running “the Shop’ is meant to counterbalance Scott’s hard handed approach towards Charlie, but in the end he does absolutely nothing. Even a small part for everyone’s favorite “Huggy Bear” (Antonio Fargas) as a cabbie is basically squandered.

Now with a premise completely based on a character that can spontaneously start a fire, one can imagine to type of special effects featured in the film. A few car explosions and inferno’s aside, a lot of the FX are laughable. The zoom in on Charlie every time she is about to unleash her power in which we see her hair suddenly going airborne to an invisible wind tunnel loses its charm the second time we see it and would make for a good beer drinking game by the halfway mark. By the end of the film she can bounce bullets off her like Wonder Woman and start shooting what I can only describe precision meteors to those who stand in her way. Yes it gets that silly and all this before a groan worthy Three Days of the Condor ending.

I never read the novel so I can only conjecture that there may have been a lot of the narrative that  got trimmed as the story does suffer from broad jumps and sparse background of what I suspect may have been a compressed plot. Interestingly, this film was once slated to be directed by John Carpenter but the perceived failure at the time of The Thing resulted in him being removed from the film. (Yes, you got that right. The Thing was not a box office smash and only later received acclaim once it was released on home video.) We can only imagine what his version would have been like.

My Firestarter DVD happens to be the dual set that includes the sequel Firestarter: Rekindled, a TV miniseries made 20 years after this original. I haven’t watched it yet but it stars Malcolm McDowell and Dennis Hopper so it’s gotta be good right? What are the odds I get burned on that one? (I’ll be sure to have some burn ointment close at hand.)

As for Firestarter itself it would be no loss if someone burned all remaining prints and copies off the face of the Earth. I’ll start rubbing sticks. Throw a little gasoline on it for good measure…