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Firestarter (A Movie Review)


Starring Zac Efron, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Sydney Lemmon, Kurtwood Smith, John Beasley, Michael Greyeyes, Gloria Reuben, Tina Jung, Hannan Younis, Gavin Maciver-Wright, Jeremy Ferdman, Jamillah Ross, Morrissa Nicole, Sheila Boyd, Darrin Maharaj, Danny Waugh, Lanette Ware, Hunter Smalley, Isaac Murray, Nicholas Vilord, Vas Saranga and Shane Marriott .

Screenplay by Scott Teems.

Directed by Keith Thomas.

Distributed by Universal Pictures. 94 minutes. Rated R.

There is undoubtedly no author whose body of work has been filmed more frequently than that of Stephen King. The insanely prolific novelist certainly has the body of work for it. (He’s released 65 novels in the last 48 years with three more due to come up this year, as well as numerous short story and novella collections, non-fiction works, screenplays, theatrical plays, original audiobooks, graphic novels, children’s books, articles, etc.) And King has always been famously open to working with lesser-known filmmakers, even allowing some of them to purchase the rights to a story for $1.00.

At this point, King movies have been going on for so long that they are even being remaking films which were already done – particularly since the 2017 cinematic reboot of It (which had also been filmed as a 1990 miniseries) became a smash. After all, even with a novelist who has so much product, there are only so many stone-cold classics to make, many of which have already been taken on in the decades that he has been creating.

Firestarter was a good novel as I recall (I haven’t read it since it was new in 1980), although it was a bit of a disappointment as the book directly following up King’s early run of classics Carrie, ‘Salem’s Lot, The Shining, The Stand and The Dead Zone. It was turned into a decent enough (but not great) movie in 1984 starring David Keith, Drew Barrymore, Heather Locklear and George C. Scott.

Since then, Firestarter has been largely forgotten – one of many King novels and films which has a following, but not a rabid cult like some of his splashier titles. And, for better or worse, the new film version of Firestarter is not likely to change that. Honestly, the new Firestarter is not even as good as the 1984 version, although it does have some decent scares.

Still, somehow more than many of his stories, Firestarter is a bit of a product of its time. Even in this particularly politically fraught time, the conspiracy theory and shadowy government agencies feel a bit forced. It was also the story which was the last of King’s early novels to revolve around telekinesis and mind control. While King has periodically doubled back to the that storyline for seasoning over the years, in many his first six novels (all except ‘Salem’s Lot) this was a main thrust of the plot.

The storyline is pretty simple. While they were in college, Andy and Vicky McGee (Zac Efron and Sydney Lemmon) agreed to be part of a government experiment, testing a new drug at a shady government facility called “The Shop.” The drug gave them special, potentially lethal telepathic powers.

They fell in love and got married and had a little girl named Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) who not only inherited their powers but was way stronger than either of them. She is able to start raging fires with her mind. And of course, as a little girl, does not exactly have the impulse control to reign it in. Therefore the family has been living on the lam, using assumed names and hiding from The Shop, because they realize that they would want to try to harness Charlie’s powers.

Of course, eventually something had to give and one of Charlie’s explosions caught the attention of the shop – so the family has to go on the run again, with a deadly assassin (who also has powers from his time at the Shop) hot on their trail. (Pun only sort of intended…)

That’s pretty much it – The Shop stalks the family until the inevitable showdown where they have to find out what the little girl’s powers really entail.

It’s an interesting, paranoid storyline, but honestly a little too buttoned down to get really excited about. Also, considering the fact that CGI effects have grown so much in the years since the original film, surprisingly the more organic effects of the first film, although definitely cheesier, were actually more impressive than the new version.

So while Firestarter will not probably light a flame under the Stephen King cinematic universe, it’s a fine placeholder until the ‘Salem’s Lot and Christine reboots which are on their way.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2022 All rights reserved. Posted: May 13, 2022.

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