By John Mulderig | Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — Like its 1984 predecessor helmed by Mark Lester, “Firestarter” (Universal), director Keith Thomas’ screen version of Stephen King’s sci-fi horror novel, features an abundance of pyrotechnic special effects.
Yet the film itself fails to ignite, due primarily to the routine feel of the proceedings and the lack of any human interest in the story it relates.
Amid the low-level boredom the movie inspires, viewers may have time to ask themselves, “Wait, when did Zac Efron get to be old enough to play someone’s father? Wasn’t it just yesterday that he was singing his way through high school?”
In fact, the mid-aughts were a long time ago, and so here’s Efron playing dad Andy McKee. Together with his future wife, Vicky (Sydney Lemmon), college-age Andy participated in medical experiments that unexpectedly left both spouses endowed with paranormal gifts — in Vicky’s case telekinesis and in Andy’s a form of mind control he calls “the push.”
These abilities are mere bush-league stuff, however, in comparison to the powers wielded by the couple’s young daughter, Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), most significantly the inflammatory capability from which the picture takes its title. Anxious to harness Charlie’s potential, the same shadowy organization that tinkered with Andy and Vicky dispatches Rainbird (Michael Greyeyes), an assassin, to kidnap her.
As Charlie becomes a fugitive, the moral underpinnings of the downbeat fantasy in which she features are revealed to be generally compatible with Gospel values. Under Andy’s tutelage, Charlie tries to control her capacity for destruction, using it — for the most part — only in self-defense. At a climactic moment she also extends forgiveness in lieu of exacting revenge.
Still, audience interest in Charlie’s adventures is likely to be no better than lukewarm. And a few grisly interludes during which she barbecues characters both major and minor are graphic fare even for grown-ups.
The film contains gunplay and other violence with some gore, several gruesome images, a couple of uses each of profanity and milder oaths, about a half-dozen rough terms and occasional crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.