Director John Power turns on the heat with George Rubino's script about a true venture in which a 12-year-old girl is supported by a stalwart firefighter when she's trapped under a gas truck-trailer accident turned into a holocaust. Darn good storytelling, effective acting and Dan Burstall's lensing give the actioner a step up. Smart Alec smoke-eater Max (Patrick Duffy), separated from his wife and two daughters --thanks to his behavior -- struts and plays practical jokes that aren't funny. A concurrent tale has a single mother Julie (Joy Smithers) and her bright, brave daughter Katy (a convincing Alex McKenna) getting trapped in their car when an enormous gas tanker runs into them.
The fires impressively explode. Julie’s rescued as the fire trucks take over and start flooding the turned-over gas vehicle, but Katy’s caught beneath a gas-filled trailer. Max, hearing her voice, makes his way into the furious de-bris, and, when he can’t get her out, promises to stay with her.
The story’s simplicity serves as one of its major attractions. The rescue attempts, the stabbing flames, the unex-pected explosions revolve around the quiet pair in the midst of the fury; in a vigorous telefilm, their plight retains its essential tenderness.
For a moment on the way to the ultimate story there’s a plot device concerning Max’s wife Sue (Kerry Armstrong) and his girls, particularly the older one. Once that softness is past, “Heart of Fire” displays a genuinely touching windup.
Duffy’s strong as the uncomfortable, clumsy Max who needs an occasion to rise to. Smithers as Katy’s mom is solid, as is Kerry Armstrong as Max’s estranged wife.
But it’s the persuasive McKenna, refugee from the late “The Trouble With Harry,” who grabs the screen. She’s sharp as the pre-accident pre-teener, but as the trapped child, she’s terrif. She and Duffy make an admirable team in a vidpic too likely to be passed over as just another disaster excursion. It’s much more, and, despite a single crudity delivered by the hero, it’s an impressive TV movie for all ages.
Tech credits are superior. Sabrina Plisco-Morris’ skillful editing sustains the telepic’s urgency with its pace-setting, and designer Michael Ralph has given the actioner conviction.