1980's, Art Carney, David Keith, Drew Barrymore, Firestarter, Freddie Jones, George C. Scott, Heather Locklear, Louise Fletcher, Mark L. Lester, Martin Sheen, Moses Gunn, Science Fiction, Stephen King, Thriller
Based on the Stephen King novel, Firestarter is something of a mixed bag when it comes to it. A thriller with some science fiction leanings, it generates some suspense and has a good cast, headed by a young Drew Barrymore. It just has a few inconsistencies that stop Firestarter from rising to a level of major greatness
Andy McGee( David Keith) is on the run with his young daughter Charlie( Drew Barrymore) from a nefarious government agency known as The Shop. We learn that when Andy was younger and a student, he met Charlie’s mother Vicky(Heather Locklear) in an experiment conducted by the mysterious agency. After being injected with a dose of a hallucinogenic compound, they developed strange powers. Andy can manipulate people through mind control to do what he wants, while Vicky is telepathic . When Charlie was born, she too had powers. In her case, she can cause fires with her mind, often brought on by stress and anger. Andy’s power also weakens him because it uses up so much of his brain function and needs to be controlled as often as possible . With the government onto them and observing them, Vicky was murdered and Charlie was briefly kidnapped . Following his retrieval of his daughter via mind control, Andy is now wanted and on the run. Andy wants to tell the papers about what they’ve been through and expose the nefarious organisation that won’t let them rest. This in turn puts him and Charlie in dangerous territory as they can never really trust anyone. The Shop wishes to use Charlie’s powers for their own ends and are headed by the slippery Hollister(Martin Sheen). He sends crazed and extremely dangerous assassin John Rainbird ( George C. Scott) on their trail. The assassin has his own disturbing agenda for wanting them captured, in particular little Charlie . Once captured, Andy and Charlie are experiments on by Hollister and sinister Dr. Pynchot(Moses Gunn) . But it’s only a matter of time for as Charlie’s powers continue to grow, no one is going to be safe from what she will unleash.
Mark L. Lester does a pretty decent job of adapting the Stephen King material and sprinkling memorable moments in there. Yet his control over timing and other areas is less assured. The decision to start the movie in medias res causes Firestarter to loose steam as it continues into the story. Though it is redeemed by a rather eventful and truly explosive finale , Firestarter shoots itself in the foot with its decisions and contrivances that make you scratch your head. The opening half is watchable and has tense moments , but the middle part sags because it wants to have its cake and eat it . Which brings me onto the pacing of the film. I find that Firestarter looses some steam in the middle section because the story gets repetitive and could have been tighter. As the film goes on we are gifted to moments that do generate some considerable suspense . I’ve seen people group into the genre of horror but I’d put it more as a thriller of paranoia and in the realm of science fiction in some areas Where the movie does score high point is on the effects, which still hold up for their age and just how explosive they do get. For reference, check the climactic scene if you wish to see a lot of fire and destruction . It’s pretty fantastic and truly memorable stuff and it’s a blast seeing practical effects too. The score by electronic band Tangerine Dream is pretty wonderful; evocatively though a pulsing soundscape evincing danger, hope and action with a lot of style. It adds to the atmosphere of the piece and raises Firestarter up a few notches on the watchability scale.
What sparks Firestarter into life is the main cast. A pint sized Drew Barrymore brings strikingly mature conviction to a role that is quite challenging for someone of such young years. Barrymore gets across the feeling of trying to control something she never wanted, while also showing just how powerful she can be when pushed to the limit. In the emotional stakes she doesn’t miss a beat and is immediately sympathetic to the audience. A lot of Firestarter hinges on Barrymore and though the film is a mixed bag, Barrymore is incredibly impressive and does the heavy lifting of conveying innocence and danger with ease. David Keith is a little histrionic as her father, but once he settles into the part he is great and finds a certain groove to play. Kieth has a weariness and intensity about him that shows the fatigue and his “gift has caused him but how deeply he also cares for his daughter . Barrymore and Keith work well together and you do believe in the father daughter bond they share, which I find goes a long way. George C. Scott who I find always delivers, is on sensational form as the extremely creepy assassin who tries to win Charlie over. Scott is as slippery as a reptile and cunning as a fox; you can tell he’s relishing playing a nasty piece of work and he plays it for all it’s worth. Also on slimy duty is Martin Sheen who is reliably villainous and like Scott, having fun being nasty here. Rounding out the villains is Moses Gunn, who has a level of charm and niceness that really disguises cruel and unusual intentions. Evil when it’s presented with a smily face is rather unnerving and Gunn definitely understands the assignment. Art Carney makes the most of his role of man who takes Andy and Charlie in and risks his life in the process. It’s Louise Fletcher and Heather Locklear who are shortchanged with roles that don’t often much in the way of memorability. Both women are good actresses so it would have been nice if they’d be gifted with something to work with. And the same could be said about Freddie Jones, who is only really there to show that some in The Shop have become disillusioned with the practice and to suffer a rather grisly death.
So overall, Firestarter is a film of good and bad. But it can be commended for its evocative score, some standout sequences and wonderful cast, especially Drew Barrymore as the eponymous girl with Pyrokinesis