Review: ‘Firestarter’ remake a low point for King adaptations

Ryan Kiera Armstrong in Firestarter / Blumhouse Productions

Hollywood has generated many solid adaptations of best-selling author Stephen King’s work.

Films like “The Shawshank Redemption,” “The Green Mile,” “Salem’s Lot,” “Stand By Me,” “The Shining,” and “It” are entertaining and compelling movies — some more faithful to the source than others — based on King’s considerable body of work.

Even the original “Firestarter” from 1984 starring a young Drew Barrymore is passable as a horror flick, but the remake, which opened Thursday, does not cut muster. It’s the worst movie I’ve seen in theaters this year.

Director Keith Thomas’ dark, comic-bookish take on the novel is a poorly constructed film, lacking characterization, detail, purpose, and thrust. It’s no wonder the movie is streaming on the Peacock channel day-and-date with its release in theaters. This movie won’t likely have an extended theatrical run.

The plot pits the McGee family against a shadowy secret government agency known as “The Shop” who seek to use young Charlie’s burgeoning pyrokinetic abilities — she can start fires and control them with her mind — for their own nefarious goals.

Charlie’s dad Andy (Zac Efron) and mother Vicky (Sydney Lemmon), who has telekinetic powers of her own, seek to protect the girl by going on the run from The Shop as well as a Native-American bounty hunter John Rainbird (Michael Greyeyes), who wants to capture Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) to use for his own nefarious purposes.

A more skillful director could have made something entertaining out of this basic plot, but Thomas seems to be racing just to get through this rather clumsy attempt at mashing up horror and the super-hero genres. The movie never connects emotionally and barrels through its relatively sparse hour-and-a-half running time. The film advances so rapidly but so blandly that the audience isn’t given time or reason to care much about Charlie, her family, or their plight.

That said Armstrong is a compelling young actress, who does her best to get the train on the tracks, but unfortunately it’s not enough, particularly with a blank performance by Efron as her father.

Efron is a talented, likable and charismatic actor. He held his own with Hugh Jackman in “The Greatest Showman,” but he really seems to be just going through the motions in this undercooked Blumhouse production.

(R) 1hr. 34 min.
Grade: D

  New in Local Theaters

Firestarter (watch trailer) / (R) 1 hr. 34 min. / AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle, Malco Towne, Skylight

Family Camp (watch trailer) / (PG) 1 hr. 51 min. / AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle

Classic Corner – The Horn Blows at Midnight

Dolores Moran and Jack Benny in The Horn Blows at Midnight / Warner Bros.

Turner Classic Movies celebrates renown golden-age director Raoul Walsh on Wednesday with its debut showing of the 2019 documentary on the Walsh, “The True Adventures of Raoul Walsh” at 7 p.m., followed by two of his best films “White Heat,” starring James Cagney from 1949, at 9 p.m. and “The Horn Blows at Midnight,” starring Jack Benny from 1945, at 11 p.m.

Walsh got his start acting in silent films in 1909 before transitioning to the director’s chair after he lost his right eye in a freak automobile accident in which a jackrabbit crashed through the windshield of his automobile. He was a versatile director, heading up 150 projects including classics “They Drive by Night,” “They Died with Their Boots On,” “The Strawberry Blonde,” “Manpower,” and “Dark Command in his most fertile period of the 1940s.

Walsh, who played Abraham Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes Booth in the controversial and highly racist silent Civil War epic “Birth of a Nation,” basically discovered John Wayne in 1930 as a prop boy at Fox Studio. He liked the strapping Wayne’s looks and cast him in his Western epic “The Big Trail.” It took nearly a decade for Wayne to become a star thanks to his lead role in director John Ford’s 1939 classic “Stagecoach,” but Walsh knew charisma when he saw it.

“White Heat” is a Cagney classic, and one of a handful of Walsh’s films that might be considered his best. It’s a must-see for any serious film fan, but let’s focus on the lesser known “The Horn Blows at Midnight.”

The film stars Jack Benny, a comedian who went on to legendary success when his radio show transitioned to television in the late 1940s, in his final starring role in a theatrical release. Though the fanciful farce is quite funny, the movie didn’t do great at the box office, and Benny used it as a running joke on his radio and TV shows for years.

The film has a Capa-esque quality to it, and the acerbic yet self-deprecating Benny is a standout as Athanael, a trumpet player in an orchestra, who dreams he is an angel after falling asleep during a break in a performance. His duty is to sound the “Last Trumpet,” signally the destruction of the Earth and its troublesome inhabitants on Judgement Day.

Of course, Athanael encounters trouble in attempting to complete his duty when he stops a woman named Fran (Delores Moran) from committing suicide and misses his deadline.

Furthering his troubles are two fallen angels Osidro (Allyn Joslyn) and Doremus (John Alexander), who conspire to steal his trumpet with the help of Fran’s gangster boyfriend Archie (Reginald Gardiner) and Humphrey (Mike Mazurki). Athanael’s angelic girlfriend Elizabeth (Alexis Smith) comes to Earth to give him an assist.

The film is classic deadpan Benny, and the hijinks are accentuated by the beauty and comical talents of Smith and and Moran. The ending leaves something to be desired, but overall it’s a screwball hoot that doesn’t overstay its welcome at just 78 minutes.