What I Knew Going In / What I Was Expecting
I have the vague notion that Firestarter is a crappy '80s horror starring Drew Barrymore as a troubled child with pyrokinetic powers, but I don't know how much of that is true. (For all I know, it's a bad-ass movie that I've missed out on.) With that context, a sequel from 2002 with the subtitle "Rekindled" seems like it can only be about that little girl as an adult.
So my initial guess is that it goes like this: in the first one, the titular Firestarter has problems controlling her powers, and then eventually vanquishes some kind of threat and learns to blend into polite society. Maybe there's a creepy "Damien Lives" ending and it's meant to be spooky. Then, in the sequel, that lady has a daughter of her own, and her daughter is just now discovering her powers. This lays the groundwork to basically just do the first movie over again.
It would be a generic direct-to-video horror movie sequel and that would be totally fine...
...except that this movie is three goddamn hours long.
What the hell? Was there really such a rich mythology established in the first one that you need three more hours to flesh out the follow-up? Was the director a crazy person?
Or is this a case where the original was based on a novel and the author was furious that they didn't adapt every single page of his book, so the team that made the sequel decided to "do it justice" by making this behemoth?
All I know is, three hours is way too much time for me to be investing in a little side blog I'm doing just for the hell of it, so I'm probably not going to give this movie the full scrutiny I normally would. Oh well. You make a three hour direct-to-DVD sequel, you get a dull-minded audience. Serves ya right.
The Plot Summary
Oh. "Based on the novel by Stephen King." Figures.
So, I'm guessing this is one of those crappy miniseries that the SciFi Channel made every two months back in the late '90s / early '00s, only they smushed it all together and called it a "movie" when putting it on Netflix.
You know, I hate to start out my plot summary by just bitching about this, but Jesus Christ, people. What's with the overlong King adaptations bullshit? Whether it's that tedious 6-hour adaptation of The Stand (which had some good moments, but which desperately needed a new ending and a shitload of chaff-sorting), the plodding 6-hour adaptation of The Langoliers (which, again, had some good moments, but only really needed 90 minutes to get the point across), or the misguided "We can totally do this better than Kubrick" re-adaptation of The Shining, people just seem to keep making the same mistake over and over again.
Have you noticed that all the best Stephen King adaptations are the ones where the director just kind of went with whatever they wanted and ended up with a more-or-less concise one-off movie? Why do people keep making miniseries? Jesus, even Silver Bullet is better than this.
Ugh... alright. I'll stop ranting.
So, this is a movie about a lady with pyrokinetic powers. Her name is Charlie McGee.
When she was a kid, she was part of a covert (and possibly illegal) research program called "Lot 6," headed by a guy named Rainbird, played by Malcolm McDowell. Rainbird is - as you've no doubt guessed - not a nice person. His job was to inject kids with a special blend of drugs to give them various psychic powers with the intention of selling said kids and/or drugs to the military. (Or something equally villainous.) Charlie burned him and escaped, and has been running away from him and his goons ever since.
Now, take that paragraph I just told you, drag it out to about 30 minutes' worth of flashbacks, chop them up, and insert every other scene, and you've got a pretty good idea of how the first third of this movie goes.
But that's all back story. This movie is about the present. And here's what's happening now:
A hapless dude named Vincent works as a sort of private investigator for a large firm. He believes he's been hired to track down individuals who are due to receive payment from a class action lawsuit and who have gone missing. His latest assignment is a guy named Richardson.
While looking for Richardson, he uncovers a bunch of documents in the basement of a public library that, in retrospect, really shouldn't have been put in a public library basement. Basically they're all these classified videos, dossiers, photos, and papers explaining that Lot 6 was a psychic research program that ended up emotionally scarring a bunch of kids and possibly creating a Firestarter of some sort.
Coincidentally, Charlie works at this library. After a chance encounter, Vincent realizes who Charlie is. For movie-related reasons, they fall in love and have sex. Then Vincent convinces her to go with him back to corporate headquarters so she can get the money he thinks is owed to her.
Getting to this point takes one hour. Ugh.
So, now the movie begins. Charlie finds out that Rainbird is still alive, just badly burnt, and he's been obsessed with finding her ever since she escaped. Meanwhile, Vincent realizes that he's not actually finding people for a class-action lawsuit after all; actually, his boss has been killing all the people he's been tracking down. Before Rainbird can do anything untoward, Vincent intervenes and helps Charlie escape (again). Unfortunately, Rainbird captures Vincent before he can get away, too.
While stuck in Evil Corp's prison room, Vincent learns that Rainbird has started a new batch of experiments on a bunch of new creepy little psychic turd kids (including one whose hilarious power is that he screams Power Rings at people). The new program is called "Radiant Thunder" and promises to be something horrible.
Meanwhile, Charlie starts to run away, then runs into Richardson completely by chance at a train station. Richardson was another subject of Lot 6 who has psychic powers and knows "everything." They have some pseudo-philosophical banter and then Richardson takes Charlie back to Radiant Thunder so she can rescue Vincent.
There's a thrilling break-in sequence in which Charlie fights her way toward the back of Evil Corp's building and does battle with the psychic turds, and then she rescues Vincent. As they start fighting their way back out again, you get the feeling that you're at the climax of the movie.
Nope! Turns out there's still another hour left.
And man, what a dreadful hour. It's like the movie forgets that it already had a plot, so it invents this completely unnecessary distraction involving another former Lot 6 subject who tells the police about Rainbird, and then the police try to investigate, but the psychics mess with their memory, and the lady ends up dying. None of this matters, but it eats up a good twenty minutes or so.
Charlie and Vincent just kinda fart around for another twenty minute and mope, and then eventually Richardson takes them to a town where he reveals he was bringing them to Rainbird's final experiment all along. It could have been a shocking betrayal moment... except that this movie is a bloated mess, so it ends up being a five minute soliloquy that ruins any kind of gut-punch the reveal might have had.
And then the characters stand around not doing anything until night falls and Charlie realizes what Rainbird's scheme is. I'm not joking.
Y'see, Charlie and Vincent see that Rainbird and all his psychic turds are hanging out in some small town and possibly up to no good. They're not sure what the scheme is, though. Charlie can't quite put her finger on it. So they literally stand two hundred feet away and just look at them until the sun sets. And then Charlie says, "Oh! They want me!"
So she goes to pick a fight and wins. Vincent dies, but so does Rainbird, so I guess it's okay. Then Charlie goes on the run again.
What I Liked
I know I have kind of a pissy tone in this week's review, but don't misunderstand me: the movie's not truly bad. It's good enough on a general technical level - nothing special, but serviceable.
I found Charlie as a character to be compelling, and I liked that the movie treated her as a force to be reckoned with rather than some cliched Sexy Killer. For the most part, I actually was invested in her conflict and curious to see what happened to her. I also dug the gender reversal of having Vincent be the hapless victim who needed to be rescued.
Malcolm McDowell is fun as usual, even though you can tell he's barely even trying.
And the effects actually weren't terrible for the most part. Or, to put it in other words: there was actual fire on the set most of the time. I'm always for practical effects.
What I Didn't Like
The length. Oh, God, the length.
This is one of the most bloated movies I've ever seen. It has to have been a miniseries when it started. But why didn't they just recut it and leave out the filler when they decided to package it as a movie? There's so much stuff that just doesn't have to be here. The first 45 minutes are all exposition, of which only maybe 15 are necessary.
The other 30 are, as I mentioned before, flashbacks - but why bother? They all seem to be a callback to the first movie, and that's just lunacy. Most sequels don't feel compelled to retell the events of Part 1 in their entirety before getting to the plot. So if they aren't a callback to the first movie, then that means they are all self-contained in this movie... in which case, what the hell could Part 1 have possibly been about?
My best guess is that this is one of those Evil Dead II type situations where somebody thought the first movie didn't do a great job, so they decided to remake it and they just called the remake "Part 2." And if that's the case, it just drives home more and more how totally unnecessary the exposition is. There's only so much footage of a shady lab you need to see before you realize "Oh, there was a secret experiment."
The bloat is so terrible that nothing in the movie winds up having any actual substance to it. It's like explaining a joke to somebody: by the time you say the punchline, it doesn't actually hit with any force. The reveal of Richardson's betrayal is the perfect example. There's so much time spent revealing it that by the time you see Charlie react, you've forgotten you're supposed to be shocked.
Even if this was a mini-series, this kind of padding is inexcusable. It's exhausting.
The Stuff I'm Not Sure About
So, the acting is a real mixed bag, but the one thing that everybody in this movie is universally terrible at is pretending to be set on fire. Ordinarily I'd call this a bad thing, but it was so funny that it ended up being a reprieve for me whenever it came up.
Nobody just screams. They all insist on actually saying, "I'm on fire," or, "Oh, no! Flames!" It's like the screenwriter wasn't sure if they'd have a budget for actual fire, so he thought the actors would have to sell it more. And then the director told the actors they weren't allowed to improvise new dialogue.
("Dammit, John! The line isn't 'AAAAAGGHH!' It's 'AAAAAGGHH, my arm is burning!'")
They also seem to forget that Charlie has fire-starting abilities. They'll point a gun at her, and then everybody gets scared and tense as if there's no way Charlie could possibly get out of this particular tight spot. And then they're always surprised when she sets them on fire, as if somebody called a "firestarter" would dare to do such a thing.
Would I Recommend It?
Hard to say. It's not really a "bad" movie - it's just long and tedious. The story is somewhat interesting, so if you're up for a low-budget science fiction thriller and you have three hours to kill, I'd say go for it.
Or, if you're one of those Stephen King snobs who demands pure loyalty out of your adaptations, I guess this is for you, too. I can't say for sure, having never read the book (and not even known it existed until today), but I have a hunch.
But for everybody else, I think this is a hard sell. I hate to keep harping on the length, but that's really the main problem with it. There's an enjoyable 100 minute movie buried inside. The question is, do you feel like watching 68 minutes of filler?
What Do I Think the Prequel Was About
I think it's the exact same thing as Rekindled, but half as long and twice as good.
My Pitch for the Next One
I'm just going to go with the plot I came up with at the top. Firestarter has a kid, the kid has pyrokinetic powers, and she has to help her daughter learn how to keep things under control.
...and that's it. I don't have the energy to come up with anything more exciting. Three hours, guys. I'm tired.