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Bloody Disgusting’s fire starter review is spoiler free.

The Stephen King renaissance continues with a modern adaptation of his 1980 novel, fire starter† Given the lackluster response to the 1984 adaptation, it’s probably been a long time. But the real question is whether any thematic depth or storytelling can be found amid the current super-saturation and popularity of superhero movies. While the wake director Keith Thomas gets fire starter off an energetic and captivating start, this reimaging ultimately fails to ignite.

The exposition of how couple Andy (Zac Efron) and Vicky (Sydney Lemmon) has acquired supernatural abilities, thanks to an experiment, is passed on through the opening credits. A nightmare sequence later, fire starter jumps a decade ahead, where Andy and Vicky try their hand at their gifted daughter Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) and avoid detection by the federal agency that would reclaim them. As if being constantly on the run wasn’t exhausting enough, Charlie loses her struggle to suppress her increasing powers. Set up an incendiary event that puts the family back on the agency’s radar, putting them all in danger.

(from left) Vicky (Sydney Lemmon) and Andy (Zac Efron) in fire starterdirected by Keith Thomas.

Written by Halloween kills writer Scott Teemsfire starter falls into two completely different halves. The first half builds character dynamics and establishes the emotional stakes. Andy and Vicky are loving parents, but with two distinctly different approaches to raising a young child with tremendous inflammable power. The conflicting ideals are complicated by the contrasting yet similar ways in which their diminished abilities are ill-equipped to support and manage Charlie’s feeble restraint of her emotions, often resulting in catastrophe. Zac Efron brings a lot into his role and does a lot of heavy lifting in the front half.

Once Rainbird (Michael Greyeyes) completely into the equation, leading to a more action-intensive shift with the family on the run, derails the script. Early explorations of morality and consequences favor fireworks, jerky and dull action sequences, and thinly rendered archetypal bad guys in Captain Hollister (Gloria Ruben

It’s all significantly underdeveloped. There is an obvious arc intended for Rainbird, a significant departure from the source material, but Greyeyes is woefully underused. While fire starter wants to make Rainbird an imposing central antagonist, his screen time is way too limited and the dialogue is too cryptic to fully understand motivations and identity.

Firestarter review peacock

Michael Greyeyes as Rainbird in fire starterdirected by Keith Thomas.

The whole back half is rushed. It eschews the source material in favor of a streamlined story set in a nondescript concrete facility. A central internal struggle is neatly concealed with a simple assembly. Set pieces, big showdowns, emotional payoffs and the climax come across so haphazardly that nothing comes of it. The goodwill built up in the front half is wasted by the strange storyline and stylistic choices.

It results in a disjointed adaptation that entails two very different characteristics at differing levels of craft. It feels like bits of story have been cut away, leaving remnants that indicate something interesting. The protagonists are much stronger, they all get a little more to work with and time to develop them. The antagonists are written so blandly and vaguely that… fire starter quickly collapses once the story tries to broaden its scope beyond the family cozy bubble. Despite a strong performance from Zac Efron, some nice charred corpses, John Timmerman‘s superior score, and brisk pace, fire starter Charlie’s story ends a little too closely. A promising beginning is unraveled by the desire to burn everything down.

fire starter releases in theaters and on Peacock on May 13, 2022.

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