Director Keith Thomas (The Vigil) picks up a script from Scott Teems (Halloween Kills) for the remake of Stephen King’s classic novel Firestarter. Unfortunately, what starts out as a good adaptation with acceptable alterations eventually turns into something unrecognizable from the original story, with a rushed and meaningless ending.
Andy McGee (Zac Efron) met his future wife, Vicki (Sydney Lemmon), through a government-sponsored psychic ability experiment during college. Among the volunteers, they were two of the most promising candidates. Now married with a daughter named Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), they try to avoid the attention of The Shop, the shadow agency behind the studio they were once involved with. But Charlie has begun to exhibit her own psychic powers, and when The Shop finds out about this, they stop at nothing to acquire Charlie and her abilities to harness them as a weapon.
Teems’ vision for this story is interesting but deeply flawed. Many things happen that are not well explained or do not make any sense. Some characters are too flat, with no gray area between good and evil, while others’ motivations change without explanation. There are times when it feels like there should have been more raw emotion or a sense of humanity. Worse yet, while the first hour of the film is still somewhat solid, the final act is rushed in such a way that it seems like Teems got bored of adapting the novel and just wanted to get it over with. Thomas’ direction is sometimes sloppy, preventing the actors from reaching their full potential. As a place to launch Efron into a more mainstream acting career, Firestarter fails. His performance alternates between wood and “by the book”. On the other hand, Armstrong is doing well, especially with the shoes he has to fill. But the standout performance is from Gloria Reuben as “Cap.” Although the character is two-dimensionally evil, Reuben sells him very well.
John Carpenter, who was tapped to direct the original before being replaced by Mark Lester, redeems himself with this version through a lurid score that weaves its way through the film and the audience. Subtly raises the level of the movie. The special effects are solid, but nothing new, and some moments rely too heavily on gore-shock to overshadow the point being made.
Overall, Firestarter is a lackluster movie bogged down by a rushed, poorly written ending and generic, stiff direction. It begins with a slow burn but never manages to ignite, relying more on explosions than substance at the climax.