To make your remake be worthy of the original, meaningful or even just worth an audience’s time, you need a spark to light the fires of imagination to justify the very existance your brand new, shiny redo. Even if the only conceivable reason for you to spend considerable time and money going over old ground is to take advantage of concept that the original swing didn’t quite take proper advantage of, I guess it’s some sort of legitimate reason to mount a sizable production. When taking this into consideration, Blumhouse’s double-dip into the world of Stephen King’s Firestarter should have been something of an open goal, as the original, 1984 movie wasn’t exactly any great shakes while it’s source novel is hardly one of the author’s standouts either – I mean it’s ok, but it’s not exactly The Stand, you know? Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that the filmmakers essentially had free reign to play with things and turn out something white hot and inventive, but instead have given us a remake that splutters when it should be a raging inferno.
After volunteering for some funky medical trials run by a sketchy federal agency, students Andy and Victoria find that the after effects have some more lingering after effects than simply nausea, double vision or a bout of the shits and we join then later in life, married, on the run, with child and owning some pretty hefty telekinetic firepower.
Andy makes ends meet by using his powers of suggestion to aid him in his profession as a life coach by “pushing” people into quitting smoking or whatever, while Vicky has let her Carrie-esque powers of telekinesis lapse while spending time as a wife and mother. However, their pre-teen daughter, Charlie, has not only grown to inherit their powers, but also has the ability to manifest devastating acts of pyrokinesis whenever she gets upset – which is like, a lot.
After Charlie has a nasty episode at school, Vicky once again stresses that it’s imperative that Charlie needs training to control her combustible abilities, but typical dad Andy insists all his daughter have to do is cram all that dangerous shit down as deep as she can – something that could have lethal consequences. However, this domestic squabble is tragically cut short when the agency tracks them down and sics equally telepathic assasin John Rainbird on them to bring the child in but only succeeds in killing Vicky.
On the run proper now, Andy and Charlie have to stay one step ahead of Rainbird and the people he reluctantly works for, while daddy tries to school daughter on how to make bad guys go boom without detonating a sizable chunk of the United States.
So, like I mentioned earlier, while Mark L. Lester’s original version is hardly the epitome of top notch King adaptations, at least it told a coherent story and had some cool pyrotechnics at the end – Keith Thomas’ 2022 redux doesn’t even do this and ends up somehow being one of the most aggressively pointless remakes I’ve seen in quite a while.
There was an opportunity here for Blumhouse to use their trademark social commentary to say something about profound about the stress of being a single parent trying to raise a troubled child, or something about branches of the government acting without any oversight, but not only does the usually opinionated studio have nothing to say besides adding some much needed diversity to the cast, but it actually removes whole chunks of the original’s story and somehow only succeeds in making the film slower.
A big problem seems to be their use of John Rainbird, who was rather insensitively played by the notoriously non-Native American George C. Scott the first time around and as penance the movie bends over backwards in order to try and not make him more of a empathetic villain than the cold, calculating lunatic he was back in 1984. The good news is that the character is now played by actual Native American Michael Greyeyers, but the bad news is that the whole middle section of the film where Charlie is groomed by an undercover Rainbird while captivity has been completely removed as if to make the character far less villainous. While making your villain less of a villain works about as well as you’d expect, what’s most odd about it is that the movie also alters things to make Rainbird be the one to kill Charlie’s mother, which makes his heroic turn at the end ultimately just seem incredibly confusing and as pointless as everything else that’s going on.
Zac Efron – apparently now entering that stage in his career where he now plays dads – isn’t given much to work with despite having a questionably rippling physique for someone who’s supposed to be on the run from a sinister agency and I guess being hunted is no excuse not to get some reps in I guess, but he has decent chemistry with Ryan Kiera Armstrong who gives Charlie a more mature, bitter edge that Drew Barrymore’s angel faced death-moppet. But even here the movie gets things wrong: are we truly supposed to feel for these guys after we watch Charlie accidentally roast a stray cat and stare at it as it writhes on the ground? How are we supposed to think that Charlie’s learned anything about her powers when her campaign of destruction in final act isn’t even her own choice, but instead is a result of one final push from her dad? Is Gloria Ruben’s amoral Captain Hollister actually supposed to be intimidating as she repeatedly discusses her fashion choices from behind a pair of glowing, protective contact lenses that seem to be a stolen concept from the fourth Purge movie?
Still, even though the movie falls down at almost every conceivable moment, at least the modern advances in pyrotechnics, stuntwork and visual effects means that, just like the original, the final act makes it all a little worthwhile, right? Make that a big old nope, because thanks to some shitty CGI and the fact that there only seems to be around 12 people stationed at the bad guy’s secret facility (maybe it’s so secret they forgot to hired people), the highly promised, climatic conflagration disapointingly blows out instead of blowing up and not even a neatly atmospheric score by John Carpenter himself (once slated to direct the original) can save it from being as awe inspiring as a cheap sparkler on a rainy night – so save yourself a trip to the cinema and just nab the soundtrack off Spotify or something.
Offering up very little that’s new besides featuring a cast who aren’t predominantly white males, this utter waste of a movie licence is strictly recommended to King completists with substantial time to burn.
Fire non-starter, more like.