Released: 12th May
Seen: 17th May
In 1980, Stephen King released his eighth book, Firestarter, which did what most King books tend to do and became a major hit. As is also inevitable with all King books, it was adapted into a film back in 1984… this would be an adaptation that Stephen King hates, only unlike his hatred for The Shining he wouldn’t be alone in his dislike of 1984’s Firestarter.
That film was fairly universally panned by both critics and audiences and remains one of the lesser adaptations of Kings work, which means it’s one of the few works of his that probably warrants a second attempt at adapting since they clearly didn’t get it right the first time… so, see you all in about 40 years when they try again because they didn’t get it right this time either.
Firestarter tells the sad, sad story of young Charlie McGee (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), just your regular 11-year-old girl who lives in a little home in the middle of nowhere with her father Andrew (Zac Efron) and her mother Victoria (Sydney Lemmon). Oh, damn, did I say ‘regular 11 year old’? I meant girl with the power to start fires with her mind, always confuse those two. Anyway, as a little fire starter, Charlie has to be kept as calm as possible while her parents prepare for the day when they might have to make a run for it.
Well, when Charlie’s powers get the better of her and she sets off a minor explosion in a school it ends up with Charlie and Andrew (GUESS WHAT HAPPENS TO THE MOM!) going on the run from the evil government who want to maybe help Charlie or maybe just gut her like a fish, it’s never actually made clear because that would require time and care and we don’t do that around here.
From start to finish, everything about Firestarter is just kind of dull and lifeless. There’s a mild moment of hope that maybe something could be interesting during the opening credits that look like strange half burned footage that shows the weird medical tests that Victoria and Andrew went through which gave them powers that they could hand down to Charlie, it’s visually unnerving and has a lot of creepiness to it… and then someone pumps the film full of saline to make it as sterile as possible because from then on you better hope you’re easily scared by loud noises or you’re shit out of luck.
Not helping matters is a script that feels like they took to the story with a weed whacker and just destroyed any cohesion or even fun that one could have with the concept. There’s no attempt to modernise, nothing interesting done with the material and it sure as hell doesn’t pack the same punch as King’s words. It’s like they just took the bare bones structure of Firestarter and just did that with no flavour added and not really caring about if it was that compelling… it shouldn’t be that shocking that the script isn’t great cos this is by the same writer who did Halloween Kills so that felt like a warning, but it’s still just not great.
What’s also not great is any of the performances, with only one person actually trying to deliver anything remotely enjoyable (that being Gloria Reuben as Captain Jane Hollister, who really just kinda overacts everything). Everyone else in Firestarter is kind of wooden, which is an odd choice in a film full of fire. No one’s characters are that interesting or even believable, Efron in particular just doesn’t pull off dad that well and other than that we’re left with a lot of very bored looking actors just going through the bare minimum they’ve been given,
Maybe Kurtwood Smith’s appearance as the doctor who started it all could’ve been interesting if they did anything with him but, in a display of one of the big problems, he’s barely in Firestarter. His character gets one scene where he spends the entire time sorting pixie sticks by colour and delivering exposition before he’s unceremoniously dumped after talking about how Charlie is one hissy fit away from being a human nuke and never brought back, despite being a relatively important figure to all the main characters who probably want either his help or some revenge.
No matter how you slice it, Firestarter just feels like it’s on autopilot without much care. Characters vanish for no reason, interesting ideas are barely glimpsed at before we just run away and do the same old boring shit we did before and no one seems to care one bit about anything. It shouldn’t be possible to have a film where the main character is compared to a nuclear bomb that could go off at any minute and have everything just feel so very anticlimactic but it absolutely does, especially the ending which honestly feels like they gave up and just decided to go home because they technically finished the story even though there is absolutely no resolution or interesting final image or anything like that.
Firestarter has nothing to offer. It’s not actively harmful, maybe if it’s on TV late at night and you just want it on while half paying attention to it, then it has a purpose but it’s not good, it’s not interesting which is a shame because there is so much potential in the idea. It’s sad that this will be the second time this King story has flopped as an adaptation because it is a very cool idea but until someone really does something fun with it, we’re going to be left with nothing but a pile of slightly warm ashes where a movie should be.