I don’t understand how Firestarter turned out so badly. The 1980’s novel is filled with ideas that should, in theory, work on the big screen. There is an evil government organisation, psychic powers, and the potential for some fun action scenes. Even with all this potential, the latest incarnation of Firestarter from Blumhouse feels DOA, lacking any substance, excitement, or life to keep audiences interested, even for its short 90-minute runtime.
The story follows Andy McGee (Zac Efron), his wife Vicky (Sydney Lemmon) and their daughter, Charlie (Ryan Keira Armstrong) already on the run from a shadowy operation known as The Shop. You see, back when Andy and Vicky were in college, they went through some clinical trials to earn extra money. The only problem is these trials boosted their telekinetic and telepathic abilities, and these abilities were then passed onto Charlie, and as she ages, these powers are slowly manifesting.
Now living a technologically free life to avoid being tracked down, the McGee family is on the run and doing what they can to avoid being noticed. While Andy is using his powers as a sort of self-help healer to earn money, he is doing all he can to stop Charlie from ever learning of her powers. This, of course, fails, and as she gets emotional, her powers flare up, causing her teacher to be hurt and their secret to be unearthed, with the movie kicking into high gear when The Shop activates their assassin, John Rainbird (Michael Greyeyes) to try and take care of the mess.
If this was the dynamic the film keeps for the rest of the film, it would not be so bad. There was a genuine level of tension early on, with the character of Rainbird feeling like a real danger to the family, especially with his undefined level of power compared to the McGee family. The biggest issues the movie faces are the pacing, style and concept never feeling fully fleshed out. Firestarter is very much a movie that needed time and budget to deliver its vision, and the down and dirty style they went with makes it feel much more like a TV special than a full theatrical release.
The opening credits and style early on give a taste of what could have been, with Kurtwood Smith as Dr. Joseph Wanless working well as a voice behind the tests, setting the stage for the creepy, twisted experiments that lead the shop to eventually letting Charlie loose on the world. Even the beginning concept of a young girl learning to use her powers could be exciting, and has been done well in many movies, but Firestarter seems so keen on rushing to the ending, it is never given time to breath or really let the audience get to know the characters we are following.
“Firestarter is ultimately a failed mess of a movie that never delivers on the promise of the book.”
While Zac Efron delivers another fantastic performance, giving a good mix of “dad energy” and tired killer, the rest of the cast felt generally wasted on the final product. The worst of it is simply that despite a solid performance by Ryan Keira Armstrong, Charlie is not written well, and ultimately feels like a hard character to root for. She is shown to be unlikable, cruel, and brutal to animals and the people around her. It is a disconnect that hurts the film’s overall message and makes much of the Firestarter final half feel hollow.
Despite all these problems, the soundtrack is fantastic, with music from John Carpenter that sets the tone that the final film cannot live up to. It is a nice touch considering Carpenter was set to direct the 1984 adaptation of the movie but was removed due to the performance of The Thing.
Firestarter is ultimately a failed mess of a movie that never delivers on the promise of the book. It is a flat, boring, undercooked venture that wastes the amazing acting talent it managed to bring onto this overall failed project. If it were not for Zac Efron and the first 20 minutes of the movie, this would be a complete waste of time, as it stands now it is something to throw on as background noise as you do something better with your life. At least the score from Carpenter slaps, since nothing else in this smouldering mess does.