Viewers who invest two nights in this overdone sequel to the 1980 Stephen King movie undoubtedly will feel burned. The original film, which starred a young Drew Barrymore as the pyrokinetic kid, left the door wide open to revisit her as a grown woman with firepower at will.
Philip Eisner’s script has its brief moments, due in part to veteran actors Malcolm McDowell and Dennis Hopper. But director Robert Iscove’s vision is an incongruous mix of ’70s action movies and postmodern feminist bravado melded into a special-effects extravaganza.
The result is too much of everything except proficient editing. Sci-Fi Channel no doubt will lure viewers by brand and name recognition, if not taste.
Backstory is revisited with newly created flashbacks (sorry, no Heather Locklear here) to when “firestarter” Charlie’s parents became unwitting lab rats in the government’s Lot 6 program. Headed by the nefarious John Rainbird (Malcolm McDowell), the program was designed to enhance brainpower with the help of psychotropic drugs. The experiment left most of its subjects dead or severely disabled, with mysterious and sometimes uncontrolled psychic abilities.
Charlie is born in hiding with the power to ignite anything and everything. Aware of her potential as a particular type of “biological warfare,” Rainbird eventually tracks her down, eliminates her parents and falsely enlists Charlie in his evil experiments. Cut to present day, where the adult Charlene “Charlie” McGee (“Queen of the Damned’s” Marguerite Moreau) lives on the run. Charlie is believed dead after her fiery escape attempt years ago, which severely disfigured Rainbird.
Living under an assumed name, Charlie spends her time searching for information on any surviving members of Lot 6.
The government also is looking for Lot 6 participants, but not to give them reparations, as Vincent Sforza (Danny Nucci) believes. Vincent, a naive but well-meaning accountant, unwittingly leads government hit men to their targets. When he and Charlie inadvertently cross paths, he becomes smitten and entangled in her predicament.
Rainbird has developed a twisted, fatherly obsession with Charlie over the years, continuing to search for her despite reports of her death. His newest lab group, all young boys, have been given similarly dangerous psychic abilities as part of the government’s new “Radiant Thunder” program. Charlie realizes that in order to free herself of Rainbird, she must return to the lab and face her nemesis.
As Charlie, Moreau conveys the sexually fiery persona just fine, but offers too little emotion other than aggravation to make for a real identifiable heroine. Nucci is appealing as Vincent, the fatally gullible good guy, but the film rests on McDowell’s shoulders. McDowell has found his niche as the bad guy and brings a creepy depth to his Frankenstein-like relationship to his patient/subjects.
Dennis Hopper appears briefly but effectively as the mysterious Richardson, the last of the surviving Lot 6 patients. In fact, the pic’s best fireworks are the result of the twisted confrontation between Hopper and McDowell.
Any of the film’s virtues, however, are negated by horribly gruesome death and torture scenes, not to mention the endless explosions or scenes of children in jeopardy.
The pyrotechnic action-to-drama ratio is outrageous, with countless stuntmen set afire. But that’s only one of several overused techniques, besides the wind machine and overhead crane. Other credits are fine.