'Firestarter' review: Clumsy Stephen King remake never ignites
Courtesy of Universal
There’s a point during the climax of “Firestarter,” a remake to an admired but not necessarily beloved 1984 original, where the main character, a young girl with pyro-telekinetic capabilities who can turn people into charcoal delivers the line: “Liar, liar, pants on fire” before setting a bad guy ablaze. It comes late enough into the movie where any type of logistical understanding has already been thrown out the window and director Keith Thomas is almost trying to wink at the camera. If the entire movie had basked in that campiness and overall lunacy (and to an extent, it does), the remake nobody was asking for might have worked. Aside from an electric score by Daniel Davies and the great Cody and John Carpenter, nothing in “Firestarter” ignites.
Mixing elements of “Carrie” and “The Dead Zone,” King’s “Firestarter” doesn’t quite live in the pantheon of his greatest hits, but still has a loyal fanbase. Except the 2022 iteration makes several grave errors, among them trying to modernize the 1980s narrative around our culture’s obsession with superheroes. Even indie films “Everything Everywhere All at Once” are starting to reflect those ideals yet that film cultivated new and inventive methods of making the story its own. Whereas “Firestarter” doesn’t unearth anything even close to filmmaking ingenuity, minus the stylized opening credits, and looks as though it fell off the editing bay halfway through production and got rushed into theaters.
“Firestarter” does begin with promise, unspooling college sweethearts Andy (Zac Efron) and Vicky (Sydney Lemmon) backstories over a glossy ‘80s inspired title treatment. Before settling down, the two engaged in a variety of shady government testing that resulted in them giving birth to Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), a charming little girl who can, um, make stuff explode and burst into flames when agitated. Think “Turning Red” but for sociopaths. The trio live remotely with little connection to the outside world, which means no cell phones or Wi-Fi (the kids at school make fun of Charlie because she can’t “Google” how to dissect a frog). Meanwhile, Andy has a nice little side hustle going exploiting his own psychic abilities, charging $100 for sessions that can change people’s lives.
All this is upended after Charlie has an explosive episode at school and sends the family on the run while a Jason Bourne type government creation, played by the great Micheal Greyeyes, chases them down. Running a hair over the 90-minute mark, the script by Scott Teems never makes a case for its existence and gives actors like Kurtwood Smith nothing to chew on (his two scenes, however, are a bright spot though also unintentionally comical). “Firestarter” is a bland experience only made watchable by the Carpenter's synthetic score, which is ironic because usually when a movie this terrible ends, you want to bolt for the exit. But the end credit track makes you stick around a little longer, trying to absolve your memory of whatever the hell just took place.
FIRESTARTER is now playing in theaters and streaming on Peacock.