Andy McGee (David Keith) and his daughter Charlie (Drew Barrymore) are fugitives from a shadowy government organisation known as the Shop. When they are spotted by agents in the street, they head for the airport in a taxi, with Andy convincing the taxi driver that he has given him a five hundred dollar bill. How is he able to do this? Because many years ago, he was given an experimental drug which has brought him psychic powers, and he can control people's thoughts. One of the other subjects of the experiment became his wife (Heather Locklear), and their child has been born with psychic powers also - the ability to start fires simply by using her mind...
Based on the second division Stephen King story, Firestarter was scripted by Stanley Mann, and, like the novel, takes the premise of an innocent cursed with devastating skills, but does disappointingly little with it. Charlie may be a firestarter, but she's not a twisted firestarter, just a little girl who feels overwhelming remorse about the destruction her powers can cause. In fact, the self-assured Barrymore seems to burst into tears every five minutes, with Keith continually comforting her in scenes that have a habit of bringing the action to a grinding halt.
The baddies are the pseudo-C.I.A. men, led by Captain Hollister (Martin Sheen), who's like a smooth businessman looking for the next big thing in weaponry. He is none-too-willingly accompanied by John Rainbird (George C. Scott), an ageing assassin who wants to harness Charlie's abilities for himself, and is something of a maverick in the system. Surrounding these two are agents in black and scientists in white, all keen to investigate the girl under laboratory conditions - but first they have to catch her, which takes up half of the movie.
The combination of gruesome death and glutinous sentimentality is an uneasy one, and Charlie's overwhelming regret is laid on pretty thick, as is the loving relationship between her and her father. Not only that, but there's an older, childless couple (Art Carney and Louise Fletcher) who the two meet on their escapades, whose folksiness is presumably intended to contrast with the soulless Shop. And then there's the leisurely pace - it's a two hour movie that could easily have been a ninety minute one - which means that you're positively willing Charlie to get captured so the pyrotechnics will begin, always signalled by one of the crew off-camera aiming a hairdryer at Barrymore's golden locks.
Anyway, get captured she does, with her father held in one room of a sprawling mansion, and Charlie in another. Here Rainbird wins her confidence by posing as a cleaner, and Scott manages a nicely creepy performance, even if you find it hard to believe he could kill someone with one karate chop to the nose. One good scene has Charlie run through an unlocked laboratory door after a spectacular display of psychic explosions, and everyone is afraid to run after her, but moments like these are few and far between. Mostly, the film trundles along, building to a fiery finale much as you'd expect. It's not a bad idea, but Firestarter doesn't go anywhere interesting with it, which may be the fault of the book, but the flat presentation of the film isn't much help, either. Music by Tangerine Dream.
Prolific American director/producer who specialises in crowd-pleasing B-movies, usually action or horror. Earlier films include more serious works like the award-winning documentary Twilight of the Mayas and Steel Arena, plus 1976's hilarious exploiter Truck Stop Women, Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw and Roller Boogie, with Linda Blair.