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Firestarter Review: Remake Flames Out

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We’re pleased to report that in the new Blumhouse Films adaptation of Firestarter, that indefensible error has been corrected: John Rainbird is played in the new film by Michael Greyeyes, a First Nation actor who has appeared in Fear the Walking Dead and True Detective, among others.

But sadly, that is just about the only thing that this version of Firestarter, directed by Keith Thomas (The Vigil), gets right. Otherwise, this is a misfire on every level, an inert, dreary-looking, pointless exercise that wastes some good actors (Zac Efron among them) or gets terrible performances out of others.

It not only makes vast changes to King’s book, but seemingly does so for no reason other than to make those changes, and it goes even further than the ’84 film in stripping all the context and heart away (by the way, we mentioned John Carpenter earlier; he and his musical trio provide the unusual if not quite fitting score for this film, bringing him back to Firestarter after all these years).

The book begins in the middle of the action, with Andy McGee and his daughter Charlie on the run from a clandestine government agency known only as The Shop. It seems that Andy and his wife Vicky volunteered for some kind of drug trial while in college, unaware of the nature of the drugs that they were given. The substances give Andy and Vicky limited psychic and telekinetic powers, but turn their daughter Charlie into a literal weapon, providing her with the ability to start fires with her mind.

Vicky is already dead when King opens his novel, murdered by Shop operatives, and Andy and Charlie stay on the road under assumed names with the Shop on their tails. The new movie, however, rewinds the action, showing the McGees (Efron and Sydney Lemmon) submitting to the experiments in an opening credits montage before joining the McGees in an unnamed town – where Andy sets up a small “life coach” business while Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) attends the local school.

That’s the first problem with this film: while it would be risky enough to send Charlie to a public school, it’s established that any emotional outbursts on her part can trigger her pyrokinetic ability whether she wants to or not. So sure, put her in public school, where kids bully and tease anyone who seems shy or out of place, like Charlie does (Armstrong is okay, but doesn’t seem sure of how to play the role).

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