In terms of accentuating the positive, the three “Hallmark Hall of Fame” movies to air in its maiden season on ABC have gotten progressively better. Unfortunately, they still haven’t quite pushed the needle over to “Good” yet. “Firelight,” the latest, is merely earnest and mildly uplifting, if wholly predictable in an especially tired way — a prison drama about choices and redemption, told from three perspectives, which dilutes the experience more than strengthening it. Still, after two truly subpar productions, even that faint spark is worth cultivating.
Although Cuba Gooding Jr. stars as Dwayne Johnson, or DJ, who nobly presides over a volunteer firefighting force at a female-detention facility, he’s really a secondary player in the overall narrative.
At the pic’s core, rather, is Caroline (“The New World’s” Q’Orianka Kilcher), who is arrested in the early going for her unlucky involvement with a crime committed by her boyfriend. Thrown into prison, she’s essentially pulled in different directions by inmates who might as well be the angel and devil on her shoulders, the former being Terry (Dewanda Wise), who heads the firefighting team and will soon be eligible for parole; the latter played by Rebecca Rivera.
While Caroline deals with her future and Terry grapples with her own, DJ appears from time to time to dispense fatherly advice, saying things like, “We all create our own reality by the choices we make.”
Directed by Darnell Martin from a script by Ligiah Villalobos, “Firelight” hinges on the familiar device of an at-risk youth finding a caring mentor and learning self-respect and reliance through a program that teaches her to be part of something bigger. Add to that cliche the squad’s heroic rescues, and you certainly have a proven formula, just not one capable of ginning up a great deal of drama.
Kilcher instills Caroline with much-needed vulnerability, despite her thorny exterior, which is enough to make the movie considerably more watchable than Hallmark’s recent clunkers “A Smile as Big as the Moon” and “Mitch Albom’s Have a Little Faith.”
Whether that helps put people in the mood to buy Mother’s Day cards is anybody’s guess, but with roughly seven months between now and Hallmark’s next holiday-timed offering before Christmas, there’s mercifully time for this venerable franchise to go back to the drawing board.