Firestarter (1984) /Horror-Sci Fi

MPAA Rated: R for strong violence, some gore, frightening images and language
Running time: 114 min

Cast: Drew Barrymore, David Keith, Martin Sheen, George C. Scott, Art Carney, Heather Locklear, Louise Fletcher, Freddie Jones, Moses Gunn, Antonio Fargas
Director: Mark L. Lester

Screenplay: Stanley Mann (based on the novel by Stephen King)
Review published September 29, 2008

Based on the novel by Stephen King, Firestarter stars Drew Barrymore (E.T. the Extraterrestrial, Cat's Eye) as youngster Charlie McGee, the super-gifted offspring of "Jedi mind trick"-using father Andy (Keith, Major League II) and mind-reading mother Vicky (Locklear, Money Talks).  

Andy and Vicky were subjects in a top secret government experiment, entitled "The Shop", that saw them gaining these powers through injection of a drug called Lot Six, which they passed to Charlie, though it manifested itself in pyrokinesis, an ability to make fire using nothing but her mind, often spurred on by an emotional outburst.  The Shop has been after them for years, mainly due to their belief that these skills would be advantageous to the US military, but they've always been able to stay a step ahead.  

Firestarter boasts a solid cast and some decent (for its era) special effects, but the adaptation by Stanley Mann (Circle of Iron, Conan the Destroyer), while relatively faithful to the source material, is barely passable, further made inept by the unimaginative direction by Mark L. Lester (Roller Boogie, Commando).  Firestarter suffers from the fact that its participants not appearing to take the production all that seriously, perhaps for good reason, given the lack of plausibility given for their motivations.  

Drew Barrymore, in her first starring role, looks like she is on the verge of laughing throughout, and never gives the requisite menace and angst that such a tough role for a child actor necessitates.   Baddies played by Martin Sheen (The Final Countdown), captain of a CIA-like espionage organization, and George C. Scott (Patton), a loose-cannon assassin with a ponytail who somehow has the ability to steal powers through eye contact before killing his victims with a karate chop to the face, are a little too cartoonish to take seriously.   

What follows is little more than a chase film, reeling out like a bad TV series with a little more gore and deaths than typical small screen fare.  Lackluster pacing and story points telegraphed well in advance cut into whatever tension might be had from such an incendiary premise.

-- Followed by the made for TV mini-series, Firestarter 2: Rekindled (2002)

 Qwipster's rating:

©2008 Vince Leo