Andrew and Vicky McGee met while earning money as guinea pigs for an experiment at college. The experiment was shrouded in suspicion and mystery, and seemed to be related to psychic abilities. The two were married and had a daughter Charile, who has the ability to start fires by merely thinking about it. Naturally, the government takes a great interest in Charlie, and operatives from the secret department known as "The Shop" want to quarrantine and study her.
Directed by: Mark L. Lester
. Starring: David Keith
, Drew Barrymore
, Freddie Jones
, Heather Locklear
, Martin Sheen
, George C. Scott
, Art Carney
, Louise Fletcher
, Moses Gunn
, Antonio Fargas
, Drew Snyder
, Curtis Credel
, Keith Colbert
. Music by: Tangerine Dream
It would be unfair to say "Firestarter" was Stephen King's attempt to recreate "Carrie." King was hugely successful by that point, enough that he could write anything and Hollywood would immediately turn it into a movie. (Which is what happened with "Firestarter." The film rights were acquired before the book was even published.) While "Carrie" is a horror character study, "Firestarter" sits more comfortably in the realm of sci-fi thriller, with occasionally grisly special effects. Both books and film adaptations revolve around a young girl with extraordinary power. However, Charlie McGee is eight year younger then Carrie, has a perfectly sane parent, and is on the run from a secret government sect. For all their differences, both stories build towards the girl unleashing her massive powers. All the film that comes before is leading towards Charlie's psychic-induced climatic rampage.
"Firestarter" is split evenly in two. The first hour is a chase picture. Father Andy and daughter Charlie are on the run from the Shop. The scenes of them fleeing through an airport or hitchhiking pass government agents are decently exciting. These moments are broken up by laden flashbacks that flatly explain the origin of the characters' powers and why they're running. At least the blatant exposition is presented visually but they hamper the film's forward momentum.
After Charlie is captured by the Shop, the pace completely shifts. Charlie is manipulated by psychotic government hit man Rainbird into honing her powers. Like every other secret government agency in cinema history, the Shop wants to use the unstable super being as a weapon. Rainbird is another thin Stephen King villain. The obviously American Indian character, played by obviously Caucasian George C. Scott, believes that he can steal someone's powers by looking into their eyes at their moment of death. He is obsessed with Charlie's ability and befriends the girl strictly so he can kill her later. Rainbird has no deeper motivation but the relationship between Scott and Barrymore provides a drive for the second half. The seemingly benign scenes of Scott befriending the girl are laced with a sinister intent. This plot line certainly proves more compelling then Andy's routine escape plan, the Shop boss' hand-wrangling or long scenes of Charlie blowing things up in a lab.
"Firestarter" needed stronger performances to succeed. I suspect the involvement of Drew Barrymore, the most popular young actress at the time, is what got the film into active production. It's not that Barrymore was a bad actress at this time. Her personal moments are quite affecting. You certainly feel sorry for Charlie anytime she cries. However, Drew can't quite carry the bigger moments. Her emotional outbreaks are unconvincing. Her constant pleas to her powers to "back it off" come off as helplessly hokey. David Keith, who I'll remind you is not Keith David, does fine, I suppose, but his Southern accent is seriously distracting. Martin Sheen is not a terribly interesting villain and neither is deep-voiced Moses Gunn as a near mad scientist. Art Carney is likable as the kindly old farmer, even if the part is underwritten and Louise Fletcher is wasted as his wife. Only George C. Scott truly impresses. Scott can play gravely maliciousness with ease and he makes Rainbird, otherwise a simplistic figure, captivating to watch.
The film was dismissed as a special-effects-fest upon release. No wonder since Charlie's fireball fueled rampages are the most exciting moments. The ambush on the farm builds nicely. I like the thermostat rising and the butter melting in its dish. The blazing agents and exploding cars are orchestrated fantastically. After watching the girl get pushed around for a solid hour, it's satisfying to see Charlie burn down the Shop. Men fly through the air, ablaze. Burning trails hunt running agents down. Some of the special effects have aged better then others. Bullets bursting into flames just before her face look cheesy. The Flaming Biscuits of Doom that Charlie explodes a truck and a helicopter with are likely to cause giggles. Still, it's as effortlessly entertaining as "Firestarter" gets. No surprise that director Mark L. Lestor would reinvent himself as an action auteur following this.
With a more even lead and tighter screenplay, "Firestarter" could have been an intense thriller. As it is, the film never reaches its full potentials. If you're looking for flaming carnage, you'll get it eventually. The rest of the film doesn't exactly; I apologize for this, set the screen on fire.
Review by Bonehead-XL from the Internet Movie Database.