This Stephen King reboot plays with fire and gets burned.
Before I saw the new “Firestarter,” I had to see the 1984 version of Stephen King’s novel-the one with Drew Barrymore in one of her earlier roles as Charlie McGee, the girl with pyrokinesis. That had impressive special effects and George C. Scott in a good role as the assassin John Rainbird, who had to pretend to connect with the girl as part of an act, but Barrymore overdid the emotions, and the story wasn’t all that interesting. I would rate that film two stars.
Now, we have the new version, which I’m told is supposed to be more faithful to the book than in 1984, but I still think it fails to ignite flames. I was looking for something impressive, especially since Zac Efron and Kurtwood Smith (“That 70s Show”) have roles, and the score is composed by John Carpenter, his son Cody, and his godson Daniel Davies, but it has to rely on some pretty dumb dialogue and some obligatory situations just to keep things flaming.
Efron and Sydney Lemmon play Andy and Vicky McGee (alias names to be exact), who both underwent a college experiment, under the observations of Dr. Joseph Wanless (Smith), who would eventually regret it. Their little girl Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) needs to control her fire powers, while trying to avoid the bad guys, who want to experiment on her. That’s why they can’t have cellphones or WiFi, so they can’t be tracked. Of course, before she admits that to her daughter, she has to lie saying “It’s bad for your mind” and “We can’t afford it. Sorry.”
But of course, they end up on the run, after the girl destroys a bathroom stall in school, after being insulted by the formulaic bully, and the assassin Rainbird (Michael Greyeyes) then murders Vicky. The new head of a government agency is Captain Hollister (Gloria Reuben) is warned by the ailing Wanless to destroy the girl before she destroys everyone else. An example of the dumb dialogue, Wanless says his experiment was a mistake, and she responds: “Too F*cking Bad,” like she was supposed to say that.
What I like the least about both versions is how the girl is supposed to be angry. In 1984, Barrymore didn’t win us over like she did in “E.T.,” and was always having hissy fits. And this year, Armstrong has to make dispositions, and manipulate some mean bikers into giving her one of their bikes and a sandwich, and then having one of them in their underwear. Another note: she can control their thoughts like her father, except, her eyes don’t bleed like his.
I’ve never read the book, so I can’t compare and contrast, but I can tell you I was bored watching this mess. At least it doesn’t rely on the long, aggravating hospital scene when the father has to be medicated to the point of him getting high. Instead, it features the girl trying to rescue her captured father from the facility. The last version was less than two hours long; this one is only 94 minutes. That’s good, because I didn’t want to be here all day. Efron and Smith have more potential to be serious than everyone in the movie, because they have there vulnerabilities. The same can’t be said for Lemmon and Reuben, who are both flat and annoying. Not even Armstrong can break tradition.
I just reviewed “The Innocents,” which is a Norwegian horror film about kids who discover their powers, and one of them heads down a dark path. It was released by IFC Midnight, which means it knows how to distribute a horror film that doesn’t get consumed by the commercialism. “Firestarter” is released by Universal Pictures and Blumhouse, which means it has to attract horror fans to it. Remember: I call them “horror moths.” Read back to my “A Quiet Place” review on that.
In Theaters and Streaming on Peacock