Film review: ‘Firestarter’ remake fails to ignite

For a movie about a girl with firepower, Firearms lacks a certain sparkle.

This new adaptation of Stephen King’s 1980 novel isn’t scary or thrilling, nor is it emotionally resonant or particularly moving. No, the outing was a tedious one, even if it had a cool, synthetic John Carpenter soundtrack, and the should-inspired decision to have Zac Efron as the father of a fire-breathing puberty.

But “Firestarter” may not have much to look forward to at first. The 1984 film, starring Drew Barrymore and David Keith as father and daughter, was not well received. Its “critical flaw,” wrote Roger Ebert, is the lack of a story’s strengths. A little girl has her dangerous powers, some government agents want to examine her, others want to destroy her, and things go on fire. That’s it.” Nor is it one of Kim’s favorite profiles.

It’s a bit of a mystery why anyone would want to resurrect this particular property, except that some may have a misplaced fondness for it, seeing it at an impressionable age. One of the best things can be said about this iteration, written by Scott Teems and directed by Keith Thomas, it neither adds nor takes away from “Firestarter”‘s lackluster history (though it does ditch a key character’s pedophile hints). But overall, it just took something that was supposed to be creepy and thrilling again and made it dull.

Ryan Kiera Armstrong plays the character of Charlie, a somewhat introverted and social outcast at school. She was not allowed to have a phone or the internet, and her father told her to simply suppress her terrifying ability to start fires. But problems are rising (so are hormones), there are assholes and bullies around, and fire comes at the wrong time. Mum Vicky, played by Sydney Lemmon (Jack Lemmon’s granddaughter), thinks it’s better to teach her kids how to use power rather than completely abstain, but she’s quickly overruled, and it’s just Andy (Efron) and Charlie on the run.

Andy and Vicky aren’t just the confused parents of an 11-year-old either: they’ve had their own experience, too. The grainy scrolls at the beginning tell us that they took some secret government tests while in college and had powers of their own. It was these officers, led by Captain Hollister (played by Gloria Reuben, who had the worst lines in the script), who were interested in acquiring Charlie. So Hollister calls former test subject Rain Bird (Michael Grayes) to find her.

Armstrong’s screams and demeanor are good, but she doesn’t have much of a role to grab. However, based on how raw her inexplicable barrel curls look for most of the film, it seems like those in charge may care more about aesthetics than performance.

The same can be said for the rest of the film, which feels like a mummy homage. Nothing can make us care about the plight of the family, the poor soul caught in the crossfire, or even the self-righteous bureaucrat.

Maybe we’ve just seen too many better tributes at this point, including “Stranger Things.” There’s no good reason to shoot “Firestarter” any more. And, even if originality is missing, something more important is missing: individuality.

Universal’s “Firestarter,” now in theaters and on Peacock+, is rated R for “violent content” by the Motion Picture Association of America. Run time: 96 minutes. One of four stars.

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