nobody movie_Stephen King’s Firestarter starring Zac Efron

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Ryan Kiera Armstrong in fire starter.
Photo Credit: Ken Woroner/Universal Pictures

Released 1980, StephenKing‘s fire starter has always been one of the author’s more emotionally direct novels: a telepathic father tries to protect his young daughter, who can use her mind to set things on fire, while they are both on the run from the FBI. A simple, exciting and moving premise. But the story is riddled with booby traps when it comes to adapting it for the big screen. People staring intensely at each other can only get you so far, King’s bizarre narrative detours and odd characters tightening often results in tonal chaos, and focusing it all on a very young child (and therefore a very young actor) can to be difficult. The ruthlessly faithful 1984 Mark L. Lester film, in which Drew Barrymore and David Keith are being pursued by Martin Sheen and an insanely over-the-top George C. Scott, was certainly inconsistent; Still, it at least delivered the spectacular pyrotechnics that title promised. This not-so-popular film comes in handy North for Northwest It feels like a hostage video compared to this latest Blumhouse adaptation (now in theaters and streaming on Peacock), which is so oddly languid and visually drab.

The hostage in this case would be Zac Efron, who not only looks like he doesn’t want to be in it, but acts like he wasn’t told he was in an adaptation of fire starter. He plays Andy McGee, father of pyrokinetically gifted 11-year-old Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong). While King’s story focuses primarily on Andy and Charlie’s escape from a seemingly endless army of feds, Keith Thomas’ film spends more time on the McGees’ personal lives, with Charlie struggling to control their flaming anger, and Andy and his wife Vicky (Sydney Lemmon), divided on how best to help her: should the girl contain all her anger or should she learn to channel it?

That might have been an interesting setup in a world where the actors actually had something to do. Emotions seem to have been forbidden here. Maybe that’s intentional, especially in Efron’s case since Andy is all about Charlie trying to suppress her feelings. But for this actor, the choice is fatal. Efron never had the gift of inner life beyond his serenely beautiful face, and when he’s holding back his emotions, it comes across as uncomfortable laziness. Blood oozes from Andy’s eyes whenever he uses his powers, but Efron’s demeanor is so passive, so noncommittal, that if you were to tell me, no one would have briefed him on his character bleeding from the eyes, I would believe you. It all feels like an afterthought.

Aside from Armstrong, who growls well and looks pretty scary with her hair swirling and flames exploding all around her, the rest of the cast doesn’t fare much better. As John Rainbird, a Native American agent tasked with tracking down Charlie, Michael Greyeyes may have even less to do than Efron. In King’s novel, Rainbird is a scarred, perverted, scheming psychopath with a bizarre death wish. Lester’s film cast Scott in the role, which now feels dodgy in many ways, but at least he had acres of scenery to chew on. It’s understandable that the filmmakers would want to make changes to a character so potentially unsettling and dated, but by simply turning Rainbird into a quiet hunter-mystic, they’ve turned him into an obnoxious cliché of a different kind. Gloria Reuben, meanwhile, plays the officer ordering the manhunt, and she’s been sent in an entirely different direction: she exaggerates wildly, but her character has so little screen time and narrative consequence that the effect is harrowing.

Perhaps the most disheartening part is fire starter is how visually impoverished it is. By brushing aside (though not entirely doing away with) the chase scene and instead focusing on Charlie’s life at home and at her strangely empty school, the film has been stripped of surprises and possibilities. Was it a budget thing? We know Blumhouse likes to keep costs low to maximize profits from these smaller releases, which is a solid business case, but not when it completely undercuts the film. I can’t believe I have to say this but what makes the idea fire starter What’s interesting is the idea that someone can start a fire with their mind. And for that idea to work, we need to see it in the real world among all these ordinary people who, you know, tip Light fires with your thoughts. Apart from a few scenes there is so little of it fire starter – the conflict between these characters’ supernatural powers and the world in general – that to call the film a missed opportunity doesn’t quite do justice to what a pathetic failure it is.


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