For a movie about a girl with kinetic abilities, “Firestarter” lacks a certain spark.
This remake of the 1980 Stephen King novel is not scary or exciting, nor does it have a particularly emotional or poignant resonance. No, this outing is a boring uphill, even with John Carpenter’s gorgeous, groovy grades and the decision that must have been inspired by the choice of Zac Efron as the father of the teenage shooter.
But Firestarter may not have had much to live up to in the first place. The 1984 film, which starred Drew Barrymore and David Keith as a son-in-law and father, was not well received. Roger Ebert wrote, “The critical flaw is the lack of a strong point for the story. The little girl has her dangerous power, some government agents want her to be examined, others want to destroy her, and things are on fire. That’s it.” The original source material wasn’t King’s most beloved, either.
Why anyone would want to revive this particular characteristic is somewhat obscure, other than the fact that some may be misplacedly smitten with it because they saw it at an affected age. One of the best things to say about this iteration, written by Scott Tims and directed by Keith Thomas, is that it neither adds nor subtracts anything from the lackluster “Firestarter” history (although it does do away with the pedophile undertones of the crucial character). But in general, it takes again something that should be scary and exciting and makes it gloomy.
Ryan Keira Armstrong takes on the role of Charlie, a slightly introverted and social outcast at her school. She is not allowed to have a phone or the Internet, and her father simply tells her to suppress her fearsome shooting power. But questions are on the rise (hormones too) and there are jerks and teasers around too and fires break out at inappropriate times. The mother, Vicki, played by Sidney Lemon (Jack Lemmon’s granddaughter), thinks it would be better to teach the kid how to use powers rather than abstain completely, but it’s scrapped and pretty soon, it’s just Andy (Efron) and Charlie on the run.
Andy and Vicki aren’t just the confused parents of an 11-year-old, either: They have personal experience, too. A lovable reel first tells us that they were subjected to some secret government exams while in college and came up with powers of their own. And it is these officials, led by Captain Hollister (played by Gloria Robin, who was given the worst lines in the script), who are interested in acquiring Charlie. So Hollister invites his former auditioner, Rainbeard (Michael Gray), to look for her.
Armstrong has a great cry and gentle presence, but she hasn’t been given much personality to stick with. Based on how inexplicably curly her hair looks throughout most of the movie, though, it seems that the officials were probably more concerned with aesthetics than performance.
The same can be said for the rest of the movie, which looks like an embalming homage. There is nothing we can commit to that would cause us to care about even the smallest part of this family’s plight, or the poor souls caught in the crossfire, or even the bureaucrats who fancy themselves good people.
We’ve probably just seen a lot of better greetings at this point, “Stranger Things” among them. There was no good reason to take another shot at ‘Firestarter’. Moreover, even if it lacks originality, it also lacks something more important: character.
“Firestarter,” the release of Universal Pictures now in theaters and on Peacock+, has been classified by the Motion Picture Association of America as “violent content.” Show duration: 96 minutes. One star out of four.
MPAA definition of R: restricted. Under 17 years old requires an adult parent or guardian.
Follow AB Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr