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FIRESTARTER

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, March 24, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: The boutique label Shout! Factory has come up with a collector’s edition Blu-ray upgrade for the 1984 adaptation of one of Stephen King’s early novels. Here’s my May 13, 1984, Deseret News review.

Based on the Stephen King novel, “Firestarter” is actually something of an extension of “Carrie.” You may remember that the teenage Carrie was possessed with telekinetic powers that she could only minimally control, eventually losing that control in an ending that can best be described as a holocaust of unleashed brain power.

And so it is with young Charlie McGee (Drew Barrymore), who has a more focused telekinetic power, but even less control over it, and a similar holocaust of fire serves as this film’s climax. Charlie’s power, you see, is pyrokinetic — spontaneous combustion by thought. Our first demonstration comes in an airport, when she gives a nasty green beret a real hotfoot. For some reason (cinematic effect, I suspect), every time she is going to light somebody’s fire, a wind comes up and begins blowing her backlit hair.

It seems that Charlie is born of parents (David Keith and Heather Locklear as Andy and Vicky McGee) who were involved in some covert government experiment with a drug that gave them telepathic and telekinetic powers. We see this in flashbacks early on, and learn that “The Shop,” a CIA-type organization, had a mad scientist (Freddie Jones) using college students as guinea pigs in the experiments — with 80 percent of them dying as a result.

The McGees discover their daughter’s deadly power when she sets a teddy bear on fire in her crib (talked about, not shown). They also learn not to cross her too often. Fortunately for them, Charlie is a good kid.

Soon, however, The Shop learns about it, and tries to kidnap Charlie. Vicky is killed, but Andy, whose own telekinetic powers cause him migraine headaches and nosebleeds, manages to escape with Charlie. The first half of the film has Andy and Charlie on the run (at one point taken in by a kindly farmer and his wife, played by Art Carney and Louise Fletcher), while the second half has Andy locked up, and Charlie subjected to experiments.

Meanwhile, The Shop’s evil headman (Martin Sheen) and an even more evil hitman (George C. Scott), along with a doctor (Moses Gunn), oversee the tests, learning that Charlie is far more powerful than they anticipated. Sheen and Scott wonder, is Armageddon around the corner? Well, we’ll get to that when Stephen King’s “The Stand” is made into a film.

     

         George C. Scott, Drew Barrymore, 'Firestarter'

“Firestarter” boasts an interesting premise, and it manages to maintain interest most of the way, though the film really gets bogged down and static when the action is confined to The Shop for the film’s second half or more. But this movie never has any real dramatic point to make, and, for the most part, just seems to lie there.

An awful lot of characters surface, but none are very well developed. Learning about the background of Scott’s character, a one-eyed Indian who seems to be something of a pedophile, though that is just implied, would have made a big difference. Or better understanding some of the conflict instead of simply relying on that old saw, government paranoia.

The film does have a subtle sense of humor, as when Sheen notes that the bricks Barrymore burns to the ground are “cinderblocks,” and with a strange mixed metaphor, which I’m not sure was intentional: “Suppose lighting fires is the tip of the iceberg,” Freddie Jones says at one point.

     

The acting is uniformly good. Barrymore proves that her screen presence in “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” was no fluke; she has a real cinematic charm. And of the star-studded supporting cast, George C. Scott stands out, as the most evil character I can remember him playing, and he has a ball with it.

The photography is very good, and Tangerine Dream’s moody score seems appropriate. The direction by Mark Lester (“Class of 1984”) is crisp and quick but unfortunately superficial.

Large doses of violence, as you might guess, are responsible for the R rating — mostly people being barbecued by Barrymore. And there is some profanity.