The name Stephen King is synonymous with horror. The man has spent his entire life writing stories meant to chill readers to their very core. Several of his books were turned into feature-length films, including The Shining, Pet Cemetary, The Mist and It. These iconic films may not have always had King’s blessing, but they were at least somewhat faithful to the basic story presented by the King of Horror.
Each is a legendary film that must be seen multiple times to contrast the difference between the screenplays and the books.
Some of Stephen King’s other stories that made it to video are not as well known. I speak of movies such as Sleepwalkers, The Dark Half and The Lawnmower Man. While these were decent horror flicks, they did not even come close to the fame of the previously mentioned movies. Films based on King’s books generally are hits, but these are the exceptions.
Another film that never reached the upper echelon of King’s movies was Firestarter, released in 1984. The film starred a very young Drew Barrymore, hot off the heels of Altered States and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
Drew portrayed Charlie McGee, a child who has the power to start fires with her mind. This story element was almost universally shunned by critics, with Roger Ebert stating that there was, “not a character in this movie that is convincing, even for a moment.” Even Stephen King, himself, declared Firestarter 1984 as, “one of the worst of the bunch,” compared to other adaptations of his works.
So, with that level of criticism, it is hard to imagine why any studio would want to risk taking another go at Firestarter. But Blumhouse Productions stepped up and said, “Hold my beer.”
The new Firestarter film was released on Friday the 13th via the Peacock streaming service, as well as a theatrical release. Taking over the role of Charlie is Ryan Kiera Armstrong, whose previous credits include American Horror Story and a small role in Black Widow.
Charlie is the daughter of Andy McGee (Zac Efron) and Vicky Tomlinson-McGee (Sydney Lemmon). Andy and Vicky had been subjected to experimentation prior to giving birth to Charlie. The experiments gave each of the McGee’s psychic powers, with Charlie’s powers manifesting in the ability to create fire with her mind.
The McGees fled from the agency, going into hiding to avoid becoming part of their grand experiments. But after an incident with Charlie, the family gets back on their radar, and an empowered bounty hunter named Rainbird (Michael Greyeyes) begins tracking them down.
I went back and watched the original Firestarter before diving into this remake. And I can see why the film was given such bad reviews. For lack of a better term, the 1984 film was robotic. The actors seemed to just be going through the motions, relaying their lines with no conviction or realism. While I felt some sadness for Charlie at the end of the movie, it still left a bland, stale taste in my mouth. So, after seeing that, I thought, “The remake of Firestarter can’t be that bad, can it?”
Honestly, the new release feels like it is a modernized clone of the original. Sadly, the acting did not get better with this new cast. The same uninspired dialogue continues, with some “trying to be clever” one-liners mixed in. This attempt at humor is lost. It doesn’t work. When I was watching it and heard one of these quips, I immediately thought, “Please don’t let this little girl say, ‘Liar, liar pants on fire’.” And I almost made it through the whole 94-minute runtime before it happened.
I feel for each actor and actress in Firestarter. They all have great talent, most notably Zac Efron. Zac has been in some of my favorite films, such as The Greatest Showman and Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. But either the script or the direction by director Keith Thomas doesn’t work for him.
While he tries some comedic relief during the film, it doesn’t work. It all comes off as forced, and with his resume, this simply should not happen. While the movie focuses mostly on Charlie, Zac’s Andy is pivotal throughout in protecting his family. The writers and director failed the cast.
Firestarter gets two out of five stars. While it is not an abysmal film, Firestarter is just as bland, predictable and uninspired as the 1984 release. If you liked the original, you may enjoy this updated rendition. But if you think you are going to see the next greatest adaptation of a Stephen King book, Firestarter doesn’t have the spark.