The Movie Waffler New to Netflix - FIRESTARTER | The Movie Waffler

New to Netflix - FIRESTARTER

firestarter review
A father and daughter with psychic powers go on the run from a sinister government agency.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Keith Thomas

Starring: Zac Efron, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Sydney Lemmon, Kurtwood Smith, John Beasley, Michael Greyeyes, Gloria Reuben

firestarter poster

Another adaptation of Stephen King's Firestarter seems redundant in 2022, given how much its story of people gifted with super-powers being hunted by sinister government forces has been done to death in the X-Men franchise, not to mention indies like Midnight Special, Fast Color and Encounter. But Hollywood seems allergic to fresh concepts and so we here we are.

Taking the Drew Barrymore role of Charlie is Ryan Kiera Armstrong. Gifted with psychic powers she can't yet control, Charlie is prone to causing fires whenever she gets angry. With puberty and her surly teen years approaching, it's no wonder Charlie's parents are worried. Her mom and dad, Vicky (Sydney Lemmon) and Andy (Zac Efron), are similarly gifted/cursed, particularly Andy, who can use a Jedi mind trick to bend others to his will.

firestarter review

The family has stayed off the radar by avoiding the use of wi-fi and cellphones (though they still have a landline) so as not to be found by "The Shop", a government agency headed by a Kamala Harris stand-in (Gloria Reubens). When Charlie causes a fire in her school bathroom, The Shop is alerted to her whereabouts and sends a similarly gifted agent (Michael Greyeyes) after Charlie.

I'm not going to pretend the 1984 version of this story is some sort of under-appreciated classic, but it's staggering how well it compares to this terrible reboot. For a start, the '84 film manages to evoke the sense that Charlie is being chased, something this version fumbles. The Native-American tracker is a problematic stereotype, and while this version casts an actual Native-American actor rather than a pony-tailed George C. Scott, it doesn't make it any less eye-rolling. The film doesn't really know what to do with this awkward character. It seems uncomfortable making a Native-American character a villain, and so there's little sense of threat from Greyeyes. In the right hands this could be as exciting a chase thriller as James Cameron's Terminator movies, but it's practically devoid of any suspense set-pieces.

firestarter review

The Charlie of this version is given no real character development, and so when the villains talk about her being a monster it's hard not to think they might have a point, as the film does little to humanise its young protagonist. We see Charlie do far worse things here than any of the nominal bad guys, and one sequence involving animal cruelty would be particularly disturbing were it not for the unconvincing CG effects (if your movie is called Firestarter you should probably make sure you can at least make fire look realistic). Early on something happens to Charlie that would traumatise any kid, but she doesn't seem affected by it in the least, and no mention is made of what should be a devastating occurrence for a child.

Things aren't helped by a weird timeline in which characters seem to appear in locations that they couldn't possibly have reached so promptly. This made me wonder if some sort of teleportation was at play, but no, it's just messy editing.

firestarter review

I don't think it's a spoiler to say it all leads to a fiery climax, but it's one that gives the impression the filmmakers really wanted to remake Carrie but had to settle for Firestarter. The violence is so grim and mean-spirited (though dogged by the terrible CG) that by the end you may be rooting for the sinister government forces who seem correct here in viewing Charlie as a threat. Chances are you won't make it to the end however, as the movie is so dull you'll probably have nodded off to the dead zone by the hour mark.

 is on Netflix UK/ROI now.