One of the first “grownup” novels I recall reading was Stephen King’s “Firestarter”. It first published in September 1980, but my exposure to it came a few years later. I’m guessing it was around the time of the 1984 movie adaptation starring Drew Barrymore. I was just a kid and remember finding a tattered paperback copy of King’s book based on the movie featuring “that girl from E.T.”. I immediately dove in, and while it took my younger self a while to finish, I was pretty proud when I turned that final page.
I wouldn’t see the movie adaptation for another couple of years or so, and I haven’t revisited it since. Pretty much all I remember is the wind blowing Barrymore’s hair whenever she would use her power and Heather Locklear (I was an 80s kid, what can I say). A better critic probably would have done his homework and rewatched “Firestarter” 1984 before reviewing the new Blumhouse produced reboot. But don’t worry, no knowledge of the original is needed for this pointless and lifeless update. It stands and stinks on its own.
“Firestarter” is directed by Keith Thomas whose last feature was the excellent supernatural horror film “The Vigil”. It’s written by Scott Teems who wrote and directed 2009’s terrific “That Evening Sun” and 2020’s underseen “The Quarry”. But he also penned last year’s “Halloween Kills”, a mediocre horror film that’s biggest issues lied with the script. There was enough filmmaking history between both for optimism. But when the studio announced they were holding press screeners until the day of the movie’s release, well that’s generally a bad sign.
As it turns out, “Firestarter” does little to justify a reboot. It’s a flat, unoriginal, and surprisingly fright-free film that doesn’t showcase the filmakers’ past successes in any way. It’s a shame because the premise from King’s book is loaded with potential as a horror movie, an action thriller, and even a family drama. But while it dabbles in all of those things, this 2022 reimagining doesn’t do any of them well. And we’re left with a story that flatlines early and is never able to recover.
The story revolves around 11-year-old Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) who has possessed pyrokinetic powers since birth. The “bad thing”, as her parents Andy (Zac Efron) and Vicky (Sydney Lemmon) call it, has mostly laid dormant. But lately it has been flaring back up, especially at school where Charlie is frequently bullied. Vicky wants to train their daughter to control her powers. Andy wants Charlie to keep it buried out of fear of what the film’s bad guys might do if they get a hold of her.
We learn that both Andy and Vicky have special powers of their own. Vicky has a form of telekinesis which she has kept suppressed for years. Andy is a $100-a-session cash-only life coach who uses his mind-powers to help people kick their cigarette habits. Both have built the closest thing to a normal life for Charlie while staying off the government’s radar. But after an incident at school reveals Charlie’s fiery powers, the film’s baddies set out to apprehend her.
That may sound interesting, but don’t expect much depth, especially when it comes to the movie’s villain(s), a secret government outfit called The Shop. They operate under the cover of some company called DSI and are ran by the recently promoted Captain Hollister (Gloria Reuben). She’s supposed to be devious and cold-hearted, but she’s a bland and toothless chief antagonist whose motives are paper-thin. Hollister claims she wants to capture Charlie in order to help her. In reality her intentions are far more sinister. Unfortunately the movie never feels the urge to let us in on those intentions. Basically she wants to use Charlie’s powers for the government and that’s supposed to be enough for us.
Lack of information turns out to be a reoccurring problem. The movie never tells us much of anything. In fact, we get more pertinent information in the opening credits than we do for the rest of the movie. There are a couple of exposition drops, one featuring Hollister visiting Dr. Joseph Wanless (Kurtwood Smith), one of the original scientists with The Shop and the inventor of a serum that imbued subjects with special powers. Hollister wants the good doctor to come back now that they’ve located Charlie. But he realizes Charlie’s power is in its infancy and that her capabilities will only intensify. He knows he made a mistake with the serum, but how he came to that realization, who knows.
The lone interesting character in the film is a mysterious mercenary named John Rainbird (a chilling Michael Greyeyes). He’s reluctantly reactivated by Hollister to hunt down Charlie for The Shop. The movie teases a compelling backstory for Rainbird, but (like so much else) it’s mostly left off screen. It’s an omission that really hurts the film’s ending which desperately tries to interest us in a sequel (something Thomas has expressed interest in).
Aside from Greyeyes, the only other noteworthy thing is the cool retro synth-heavy score from John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel Davies. Otherwise “Firestarter” stays dull and flavorless, dryly moving from one point to the next, checking off boxes in the story and offering nothing is terms of frights, surprises, or suspense. So we spend most of the time waiting for the movie to kick into gear, which unfortunately it never does. “Firestarter” is now showing in theaters and streaming on Peacock.
I saw this yesterday on Peacock, because I wasn’t willing to spend 10-15 bucks seeing this in theaters. There’s a reason it was a day-and-date release. This was BAD. I liked Zach Efron and the girl that played Charlie, but that was it. It was slow, plodding, and went nowhere. Also, for a movie about a pyrokinetic girl, there wasn’t much fire-starting. The 1984 may not be a classic, it certainly a lot of problems of its own, but at least it does more with the concept than this…thing. In the 1984 movie, when Charlie is allowed to unleash her power, it’s spectacular and brutal, especially towards the end of the movie. I would even argue that the 2002 mini-series, Firestarter: Rekindled does more with the concept than this movie. I was looking at the box office numbers. The movie was made for 12 million and it didn’t even bring home half of that on its opening weekend. It fell flat on its face. I would stick with the 1984 movie, even with all its problems. It’s a much better movie.
Yep. It was BAD. You would think if they were going to reboot it they might have something exciting in mind. That most certainly wasn’t the case.
Oh dear, mullering a KIng novel is not a great career move I suspect.
This isn’t even on a “so bad, it’s good” level. It’s just bad.
Ya know, it’s interesting. Very few King movies have be done well on the big screen. Not sure why.
With the exception of The Mist, I would agree. His non-horror stuff has done pretty well actually, with Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. Carrie was really good, and I actually liked the 2013 film as well. But for the most part, the movies based on his horror output have been 50/50.
The Shining? Everyone tells me that a great movie but I haven’t seen it. I really liked The Dead Zone with Walken, and Christine with the car 😊
I was thinking about The Shining. I like it a lot. Maybe not on the same level as most, but it’s really good. Interestingly, King wasn’t high on Kubrick’s adaptation and was pretty vocal about it.
Since it’s on Peacock I might give it a watch because I need to see something new, but yikes. I haven’t read a single good review on this.
Honestly, you’re better off not seeing it. You’re not missing anything of value. It’s on Peacock for a reason. Day-and-date releases are the new “straight-to-video.”
Definitely not worth going to see in the theater. If you’re wanting to see it streaming is the way to go.
Yikes. the reviews for Firestarter have been B-R-U-T-A-L! Is this where we are now with Stephen King adaptations? Sheesh.
It’s bad man. Really bad. There really hasn’t been many really good King adaptations. There have been some for sure. But there have also been some real stinkers.
I have no interest on subscribing to the Cock since it is also the home of sports entertainment. That shit is for pussies. I don’t want to see this. I heard it doesn’t feature Prodigy’s “Firestarter”. How can you have a movie called “Firestarter” and not feature that song? MINUS FIVE-STARS!!!!!!
Sadly no song could save this one. It’s a stinker…
Thanks for the review, I’ll definitely avoid this one. I’ve never been much of a fan of reboots, the majority wreck the story trying to be different enough to draw in moviegoers and lose what made them awesome to begin with. This is especially true for movies based on books. Once the author’s vision has been on the screen, do we really need it again? An exception can be when the technology enhances the visuals (and even sounds) and just makes a much better movie. Seems like this one went the way of Pet Sematary 2019.
That’s a really good comparison. I’m not sure what they were going for here (it’s honestly hard to tell). But whatever it was, they clearly missed their mark.
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