The book itself(which I plan to reread this October for a readathon) has a great concept-a young couple, who meet during a medical experiment in college, find themselves having a daughter who manifests a dangerous psychic ability early on in life,being able to set fires with her mind.
The government agency that secretly sponsored the original experiment goes after them, forcing the father Andy to take his little girl Charlie on the run and undo some of the safety training he's taught her to control her powers. Once captured, Andy and Charlie have to find their separate ways out yet attempt to reunite and escape but not without dealing with a dubious ally or two.
While I refuse to blame Drew Barrymore for her rather bland performance(she was a kid,after all)as Charlie, most of the adult actors along side her have no excuse for the cue card reading level of acting done here, even seasoned professionals such as Art Carney, Louise Fletcher, Martin Sheen and even David Keith as daddy Andy at times. Most of the dialogue is more wooden than anything Charlie is given to light up with her "flame-on" skills.
For some strange reason, there is a serious disconnect between the intensity of the situations on screen and the characters involved in them. One of the most pivotal scenes early on in the story is Charlie and Andy taking refuge with a kindly farmer and his wife when the government henchmen surround them for a showdown. This should be a nerves on edge feel to this but what we get instead is more of a set-up for some rather sad special effects:
Granted, Andy's constant clutching of his head like he's living in an old school aspirin commercial isn't much better but I bet it didn't use up a good chunk of the budget.
Yes, the technical advancements of that time period did limit things but it's not a good sign when you're waiting for more bad fire balls than wanting to watch these actors go through the motions oh so stiffly here. Granted, the casting choices were rather a mixed bag at best, such as Heather Locklear's brief role as Charlie's mother Vicky. Something tells me that she gave livelier line readings on T.J. Hooker than any of her small scenes in this movie:
One of the most important roles in this story is that of John Rainbird, a government hit man who's part Native American and has a rather twisted love for his work. He becomes obsessed with Charlie and her powers, wanting to be the one to kill her in order to take some of that ability for himself.
So, who did they cast for such a major character? George C. Scott, because the guy who played Patton is the one that springs to mind when searching for a Native American assassin, oh yeah, sure! To be fair, George C. does attempt to give some sort of a credible performance but at this stage of his career, he was more of a caricature than a character actor and it shows here, big time:
I know you can debate the merits of Kubrick's Shining from here to eternity yet it is more than fair to say that particular movie was more thought out and well planned that this one. The whole tone is off, making the story feel it was something everyone had to do, rather than want to do.
Sure, Firestarter has a good soundtrack(courtesy of Tangerine Dream) but the group that made it didn't even see the film before creating the music for it! That is not a good sign, folks. Charlie certainly deserved a better cinematic introduction that the lackluster one she was given here. Also, I think she deserves a follow-up book as well(hey, if Danny can have his own sequel, so can Charlie!).
The Syfy Channel did make a miniseries called Firestarter: Rekindled, which showcased an older Charlie, in 2002 but that barely lit a spark for audiences. There is talk of a remake and this might be one of those rare cases where a remake can truly be a good thing. Join us next week, when Bad Movie Month wraps up the Worst of Stephen King with Silver Bullet(and no, it's not about the beer but you might need one after watching this howler):