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(1998) (Howie Long, William Forsythe) (R)

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Action/Adventure: A firefighter must deal not only with a raging forest fire, but also an escaped convict who's taken a woman hostage in the middle of the inferno.
Jesse Graves (HOWIE LONG) is a U.S. Forest Service "smoke jumper," a firefighter who parachutes into forest fires to help extinguish them. Led by his long time mentor, Wynt Perkins (SCOTT GLENN), Jesse has successfully battled many blazes. He faces a new challenge, however, when Earl Shaye (WILLIAM FORSYTHE), a convict imprisoned for a daring and deadly train heist, uses a raging forest fire to plot his escape. Accompanied by several other prisoners, Shaye takes a lost ornithologist, Jennifer (SUZY AMIS), hostage as he and the others set their plan into motion. Literally jumping into the fire, Jesse finds himself battling not only the blaze, but Shaye and his men as he tries to save Jennifer before a deadly firestorm overtakes all of them.
Preteens won't, and it's questionable how many teens will. Much of that depends on how much of a draw former football star-turned actor Howie Long turns out to be.
For violence and language.
  • HOWIE LONG plays a serious and dedicated firefighter who puts his life at stake to fight the fires and to save Jennifer.
  • WILLIAM FORSYTHE plays an escaped convict who kills many people, including those who are helping him.
  • SUZY AMIS plays a toughened, ready for anything ornithologist who finds herself taken hostage.


    OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
    At the beginning of "Firestorm," 20th Century Fox's latest entry in the firefighting genre, we're told that out of the 30,000 (forest) firefighters in the country, only 400 or so are trained to parachute into the blazes. While such an occupation on the surface sounds foolhardy -- most people flee fires and don't jump into them -- it's obviously a treacherous, demanding and seemingly self- sacrificial job. A movie about such characters would appear to be an exciting prospect as we'd see those brave souls risk their lives as they faced mother nature at her worst.

    Unfortunately, most of that element is squandered away in this film as those characters and the fire in general are used just as backdrops for a repetitive and mediocre plot about an escaped convict and his cohorts. Purely formula driven, most of the fault can be blamed on the people behind the camera who are new to their respective film making roles.

    Former cinematographer Dean Semler (Oscar winner for "Dances With Wolves") makes his directorial debut, while writer Chris Soth delivers his first produced screenplay. With seasoned writer Graham Yost ("Broken Arrow," "Speed") participating to an unknown extent in his uncredited role, the rookies were relatively left alone to make this film. Following what they probably believed would be a successful recipe for a hit, they've made a film that's not very good, but also not disastrous enough to be fun in an unintentional way.

    Of course there are many moments when you think it might get to that latter point. Anytime audience members laugh at moments they're not supposed to, you know you're on the verge of seeing some unintentional camp. Spotting instances of sped up footage (when Amis falls into a river) or obviously faked scenes (a close up of Long as he "jumps" from a helicopter) inspired quite a few guffaws from our audience. Likewise, a conveniently placed motorcycle (inside a ranger station!) and a roof that's fallen to a ramp-like angle got the same reaction when Long rides the bike to safety (compared to the "Oh, cool" response that would occur in say, a James Bond film).

    The fledgling writer and director also fill the movie with more than its fair share of illogical moments. The main villain, played without much vigor by William Forsythe (1996's "The Rock"), slowly but surely kills off his cohorts one by one. While we understand that he doesn't want to share his hidden loot with them, it's unknown why he doesn't get rid of all of them in one scene. I could understand if they were of some help to him, but they don't seem to be and he certainly doesn't think so. Likewise, when he sends one of his thugs to knock off Long, he doesn't give the man his gun to do the job. Instead, we get to see the obligatory hand to hand combat that itself is run of the mill and certainly not thrilling. While all of the obligatory action/adventure elements are in place, they never jell into a cohesive whole and much of the film has a forced feeling to it.

    When that happens, you hopefully have a star who can transport you beyond whatever plot problems exist. In this case, we get Howie Long, the former football-star turned actor who makes his second film appearance (after co-starring in 1996's "Broken Arrow"). Obviously being groomed by Fox into an action hero wannabe, and apparently contractually obligated to them (that studio produced the first film, and he's currently employed as a sports anchor for their NFL pre-game shows), Long seemingly has what's needed to fit the bill. With the chiseled good looks, towering physique, and a major studio behind him, he's been given the green light to become a star.

    With Clint, Arnold and Harrison all getting a bit long in the tooth to play action heroes, and the careers of the likes of Jean-Claude Van Damme and others never really taking off, Long may just get the chance to fill that character void. Other than promoting his name, however, this film won't do much to establish him as the next big thing. While he has a certain on screen charisma, and certainly has the hulking presence to be an action star (perhaps too big for some roles), this role won't do anything for him other than briefly put him in the public eye before this film's own fire quickly burns itself out.

    The rest of the cast is okay but none of the performers offer anything special to their roles. After Alan Rickman's deliciously crafted villain in the original "Die Hard," film makers have often tried (usually in vain) to create other interesting bad guys. Unfortunately, Forsythe isn't given much to work with here and creates a stereotypical, and easily forgettable villain. His cohorts are all throw away characters, and even Amis, playing the role of the tough damsel in distress, doesn't seem to be too thrilled to be in the production. Finally, there's Scott Glenn who makes his second appearance in a firefighting film (the other being 1991's "Backdraft") and he also delivers a flat performance.

    Beyond the myriad of problems the film faces, what's really missing is the fire itself. Sure, it's there -- and there are some fun scenes (and some ridiculous ones as well) with the raging inferno racing toward the characters (in scenes nearly taken straight out of last year's "Volcano"). Yet the film makers missed the boat by not turning the fire into something of a character itself. In "The Towering Inferno" the fire is a deadly obstacle "whose" actions influence those of the characters. In "Backdraft," director Ron Howard nearly gives the fire a soul of its own. And in Steven Spielberg's underrated "Always," the fire and firefighting are a common bond between the characters that shape their destinies.

    Here, the fire could easily have been a flood, a mudslide, or any other natural calamity -- except volcanoes, of course, that was last year's disaster of choice. By focusing on the lame escaped con plot, the film misses what could have been a more interesting look at the "smoke jumpers." Now it's questionable how far one could go with such a plot, but at least it wouldn't be as bad as the one with which this movie's stuck. When you get a film where the escaped cons stupidly decide to pursue the good guys instead of running away (especially with a huge fire racing toward them) you know you're in for a long, predictable, and boring sitting in the theater.

    Speaking of that, wanna take any bets as to whether at the end the villain is killed the first time, or instead keeps coming back for more? Or whether even more illogical moments will proceed that climax? I didn't think so. Not horrible enough to be unintentionally good, and too predictable and mediocre to be any fun, "Firestorm" just has a "blah" feeling to it -- despite the exciting sounding title. Don't be surprised to see the competition at the local multiplex quickly "burn" this film and send its ashes to the video stores. We give it just a 2 out of 10.

    Violence and profanity highlight the objectionable material in this movie. Many people are killed by the head villain, but other than one brief scene, the scenes are nearly blood free. Nearly 25 combined uses of the "f" and "s" words are heard along with a variety of others. Obviously the main bad guy has an extreme bad attitude, but beyond that, many of the other categories are rather void of objectionable material. Still, since some kids might want to see this film, we suggest that you look through the material before they (or you) go.

  • None.
  • Shaye stabs a man in the neck and we briefly see a stream of blood flowing into a sink.
  • We see several bullet hole wounds that aren't very bloody.
  • We briefly see a person's head that's completely engulfed by fire.
  • Obviously Shaye (a murderous escaped convict) has both, as do some of his convict associates. In one scene, Shaye asks a fellow prisoner, "Have you ever killed a man? It's quite exhilarating." Later he tells Jennifer, "Walk fast or I'll shoot you in the head."
  • Shaye (and in particular his lawyer) start a forest fire to cover the escape.
  • Viewers may find scenes listed under "Violence" as tense as well.
  • The film has many scenes where people are trapped in forest fires that may be unsettling to younger viewers (and some adults as well).
  • There are also many scenes where Shaye and/or his men chase and try to kill Jesse and Jennifer.
  • Jesse and Wynt must race through a raging forest fire to save a little girl trapped in a house.
  • Prisoners trapped in a bus find themselves in the path of the forest fire, and we see several shots of this as the fire gets closer.
  • Jennifer slips down Jesse's body as she tries to hold on to him after they've parachuted off a cliff.
  • Several characters find themselves in the path of a firestorm that's racing through the forest toward them.
  • Handguns/Shotguns: Used by Shaye and his men to shoot at Jesse and Jennifer, and by Shaye to kill his own cohorts. See "Violence" for details.
  • Knife-like instrument: Used by Shaye to stab a man in the neck.
  • Axes: Used by a bad guy as he tries to hit Jesse.
  • Phrases: "Jack ass," "Idiot," "Weasel," "Kiss ass," "Shut up," "Geez," "Bad ass," "Stupid moron," "Butt lunch," "Idiot," "Bastard," "Bitch" (toward a woman), and "Pissing me off."
  • Shaye (and in particular his lawyer) start a forest fire to cover the escape.
  • Shaye asks a fellow prisoner, "Have you ever killed a man? It's quite exhilarating."
  • A flock of birds suddenly flies out of the woods during a quiet scene.
  • The film has a moderate amount of suspenseful music in various scenes.
  • None.
  • At least 8 "f' words (1 using "mother"), 16 "s" words, 18 hells, 10 damns, 7 asses (2 using "hole"), 7 S.O.B.'s, 1 crap, and 5 uses of "Jesus," 3 of "G-damn," and 1 use each of "For God's sakes" and "Oh God" as exclamations.
  • A man in Jesse's team briefly comments on a Cosmopolitan Magazine quiz, "How To Please Your Lover: Rate Your Sexual I.Q." but we don't hear any of the questions or answers.
  • Shaye smokes a few times as do several other minor characters.
  • We briefly see a mother and father worrying about their daughter who's trapped in a house surrounded by a forest fire.
  • The dangers of playing with (or simply using) fire in forests.
  • The heroic efforts of firefighters.
  • Shaye stabs another prisoner in the neck, killing him.
  • Shaye and the other prisoners stage their takeover and hit and shoot several guards, killing them.
  • Shaye shoots and kills one of his cohorts.
  • Although not seen, we hear that Shaye was responsible for seventeen deaths in his last robbery.
  • Shaye backhands Jennifer, knocking her to the ground.
  • One of Shaye's men tries to hit Jesse with an ax and the two then fight each other (with more ax swinging and slamming of bodies into walls). Meanwhile, Shaye has locked them inside a ranger station, poured gasoline all around it, and then set it on fire. As the bad guy tries to get out, Shaye shoots him three times.
  • Jesse knocks over some of the bad guys and Jennifer hits one of them and both then flee on a motorcycle as Shaye shoots at them.
  • Shaye knocks one of his associates off the side of a cliff to his death on the rocks below.
  • Shaye shoots at Jesse and the bullet just grazes his shoulder. He then kicks Jennifer in the gut and shoots and kills another of his men.
  • Shaye shoots a man who in turn shoots him in the leg before being shot again.
  • A thrown ax impales a man.
  • A man thrusts another man's head up into a fire, killing him.

  • Reviewed January 7, 1998

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