FIRESTORM (1998)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 29 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence and Language

Directed by: Dean Semler

Written by: Chris Soth

Starring: Howie Long, Scott Glenn, William Forsythe, Suzy Amis & Garwin Sanford

For a film that relies on frequent scenes of characters running away from flames, FIRESTORM is all wet. Sorry, I couldn’t resist making that pun because it’s an accurate descriptor for this lame-brain excuse of an action flick. The studios clearly didn’t have much faith in this dud because it was dumped into an early January release date and the DVD doesn’t even have a menu. FIRESTORM has a whole list of problems and one only redeeming factor. It’s an ugly mess of a film that gets pretty much everything wrong…save for a single awesome moment that saves it from being a complete failure.

Jesse Graves (Howie Long) is a smokejumper, a specially trained firefighter who jumps straights into forest fires. Jesse’s seen a lot of hot messes in his day, but he’s about to face his toughest challenge yet. A mysterious arsonist has started a massive, rapidly spreading forest fire. This dangerous blaze is part of a master scheme by thief/murderer Alexander Earl Shaye (William Forsythe), who uses the chaotic inferno as a means to escape and retrieve a hidden treasure of 37 million dollars. Unfortunately for Shaye and his four goons, Jesse Graves has jumped into the fiery fray and the prison escapees soon find themselves in a heated stand-off against the muscular, square-headed firefighter.

Howie Long was an NFL player on the Raiders for 13 years and then took a misguided brief stint as an actor. FIRESTORM features Howie’s sole headlining role in his career and it’s very apparent why he eventually gave up acting to become a sports commentator. Long is a terrible performer. Not one of the emotions he’s trying to play comes off as the least bit believable and his line delivery constantly feels wooden. He’s possibly the worst actor I’ve seen in an action leading role, which is really saying something when you consider all of the terrible acting we’ve seen in decent/good action flicks. FIRESTORM doesn’t even give Howie the benefit of big dumb fun, because this script is terrible and the action scenes are atrociously boring.

Not even William Forsythe can save this film as the main murderer/thief antagonist. He seems downright bored in this role and who can blame him? He got suckered into playing a blandly-written villain. The most Forsythe gets to do is slowly pick people off one-by-one in rather dull ways and frequently refers to his thugs as “gentlemen.” That’s about the only quirkiness there is to this dull-as-dirt character. Meanwhile, Suzy Amis (who gave up her acting career shortly after this mess) plays bland bird-watcher turned damsel-in-distress Jennifer. Her only functions seem to be getting kidnapped by the villains and occasionally screaming at Howie Long during perilous situations (like hanging off his leg while he’s parachuting off a cliff or climbing over him on a moving motorcycle).

FIRESTORM’s script is filled with so many clichés that it comes dangerous close to bursting into a deadly explosion of bad writing. Numerous clichés occur within mere minutes of each other, including Scott Glenn announcing his future retirement as an aging smokejumper, verbally passing the torch on Howie Long’s character, and capping this off with the sloppy reveal of Long’s deceased father also being a smokejumper (with a cheesy black-and-white photo to boot). These three eye-rolling revelations happen in the same three-minute scene. During the climax, there’s also a half-assed twist that comes out of nowhere and feels like a half-hearted slap in the face.

To further add to the already ridiculously high pile of bad movie clichés, there’s a bus full of chained convicts left in the forest fire’s path as an extra bit of would-be excitement that pays off in the most anti-climactic way possible. Still, one line did make for a good (intentional) laugh. The film begins with an over-the-top rescue scene that features every single character and a dog reacting in slow motion to the heroic deed. It’s so cheesy that you’ll wish you brought nachos. The annoying soundtrack that’s prominent in many moments, rife with extra sound effects, doesn’t help matters either.

Action films (especially cheesy 90s action films) aren’t exactly known for having realistic logic and adhering to the laws of physics, but FIRESTORM’s action sequences are eye-rollingly inept. There’s one fight scene between skydiver Jesse and a former wrestler convict/henchman that is horribly choreographed and among the worst film fights that I’ve ever sat through. It’s terrible to a point where the viewer can point out all the times they actors are leaving themselves open for another attack…and then not taking an opportunity to attack their opponent. The rest of the action sequences range from stupid to boring to stupidly boring, save for a single two-minute scene.

I mentioned there was one redeeming quality that saves FIRESTORM from a failing grade. Well, that comes in one major death that occurs in the final showdown. It’s so ridiculous and absurd that it’s unintentionally hilarious and kind of brilliant. This single scene easily ranks among my favorite villains’ deaths and I won’t dare spoil it in this review. I’d recommend checking out the clip on YouTube though, because then you’ll have watched the only two minutes of merit in this feature-length disaster. Other than that death scene, this is one of the worst action films that I’ve had the displeasure of sitting through. FIRESTORM? More like SHITSTORM!

Grade: D-

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