For fans of the beloved Stephen King novel: temper your expectations… a lot.
Having met as college students volunteering in a government drug research experiment for extra cash, Andy (Zac Efron) and Vicky (Sydney Lemmon) hide in plain sight under aliases. Their vigilance isn’t only for themselves but also for their daughter Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), born with the ability to ignite fires with her mind. After a school incident alerts the government to their presence and location, the head of a clandestine agency (Gloria Reuben) activates retired agent Rainbird (Michael Greyeyes) to collect the family and especially their little girl. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Charlie’s powers have indeed grown…
Stephen King’s 1980 novel Firestarter won awards and was quickly optioned for a 1984 film starring Drew Barrymore in the title role, popularizing the word “pyrokinesis.” The book also introduced “The Shop,” a secret government research branch and think tank to collect and weaponize people, powers, and even extraterrestrial technologies, making appearances in King’s later works as well. Rumors of the U.S. government fighting the cold war against the Soviets — recently revealed as somewhat true in the declassification of Project Star Gate started in 1972 — served as the inspirations for King and later for the Duffer Bros. Netflix series “Stranger Things.” While the 1984 film was stuffed with award-winning actors and high expectations due to the novel’s success, it looked more like a big budget made-for-television film compared to movies like Ghostbusters from the same year. With King’s blessing paid for and John Carpenter (and son) onboard for the soundtrack, can Blumhouse deliver a more definitive adaptation in the way It and Doctor Sleep exploded onto the silver screen?
If one forgives the “tailie” bad guys in cheap suits introduced to die by the dozens, the 1984 version is serviceable, following the novel’s bullet points but not nearly as complete as John Carpenter’s Christine adaptation. The 2022 Firestarter is scripted like a legacy sequel rewritten to serve as a reboot, from changing basic rules, characters, and their capabilities to gutting two-thirds of the book. The new film feels like an abbreviation of a better film left on the cutting room floor, leaving in the most pedestrian tropes and shortchanging everything that made the novel unique, never mind the frequent cartoonish special effects. The best thing to say about Firestarter 2022 is it looks worse than a CW television pilot that thankfully couldn’t get picked up as a series. Even Carpenter and son’s soundtrack can’t redeem this misfire.
Viewers can practically feel the COVID-enforcement folks just off-screen with tape measures, making too many scenes feel unrealistically understaffed; some characters are never seen except through a closed-circuit camera monitor. The 1984 original covered in 45 minutes what the remake couldn’t do in its entire 90-minute running time; the 2022 remake is so “alternate universe” they couldn’t even get the names right. Worse yet, the changes hamstring character powers to introduce technological countermeasures, silliness the film repeatedly reminds you of every time they can. The novel’s Charlie has so much power she needs to reign it in, while in the remake it appears to wear out… and of course only at the worse possible times “for drama’s sake.” Anyone who knows how Charlie’s story is supposed to end will cringe at the remake’s new conclusion; King fans should charge Peacock to replace all the televisions their remotes are thrown into.
The choice of Ryan Kiera Armstrong for Charlie McGee was a good one, but she isn’t given the breadth of material Drew Barrymore was given; the same is true of Michael Greyeyes as Rainbird, an actual Nêhiyaw (Plains Cree) instead of Scots-Irish George C. Scott playing Native American. Blumhouse has funded plenty of stories in the horror and supernatural genres, but this movie echoes their disposable Fantasy Island reboot and The Craft: Legacy, not The Invisible Man reboot or the Happy Death Day original films that work extremely well. Next up is Salem’s Lot, but as the sophomore film for director Gary Dauberman — his follow-up to Annebelle Comes Home — the trend of bad King adaptations isn’t going away soon… but here’s hoping.
Firestarter 2022 is rated R for violent content and setting stray animals on fire. No, that wasn’t a joke.
Zero skull recommendation out of four