‘Firestarter’ (2022) movie review: Zac Efron ignites Stephen King reboot

A young girl struggles to come to terms with her psychic pyrotechnic powers in Firestarter, a new adaptation of the Stephen King novel following the 1984 original starring Drew Barrymore. The earlier film was no classic, but this latest version pales in comparison until a fiery climax that takes things in a different direction.

Zac Efron and Sydney Lemmon star as Andy and Vicky McGee, who took part in a shady college experiment that gave them telekinetic abilities, thinly sketched out over Firestarter’s opening credits.

Ten years later, Andy is a therapist who uses his “push” abilities to convince his patients to quit smoking. He and Vicky have a young daughter, Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) and the family is on the run from the mysterious forces behind the experiments who continue to hunt them down.

To make matters worse, the parents have passed down a form of their powers to their daughter, who is now struggling to come to terms with them. In one of Firestarter’s striking early scenes, a newborn Charlie incinerates her crib; later, when she’s teased in gym class, she creates a fiery explosion in a bathroom stall.

The latest incident is enough for word to get out, and Captain Hollister (Gloria Reuben) calls the vicious John Rainbird (Michael Greyeyes), a former subject in the mysterious experiments, into action to hunt the family down. Kurtwood Smith shows up in a single-scene cameo as the doctor who ran the original experiments.

As the family takes it to the road, they come across kindly farmer Irv Manders (John Beasley), who takes them in for a night and promises to drive them to Boston… after a small push by Andy.

This Firestarter is a real slow burn, and despite some fine performances the first hour of the film is a drag. Sluggish and uneventful, it only hints at King’s well-detailed story and its developments while leaving much open to the viewer’s imagination.

But things heat up during the climax, and Firestarter’s fiery finale is almost enough to save the film. Unlike the earlier movie, however, the climatic events of the film represent a drastic departure from King’s original story, and don’t seem to add up to a greater overall vision.

Firestarter, like King’s novel and the 1984 adaptation, is ultimately about coming to terms with emotions – anger, grief, trauma – and learning how to process them. Like Barrymore in the earlier movie, Ryan Kiera Armstrong is a highlight here; as Charlie learns to control and devastatingly unleash her pyrotechnic powers, Firestarter finally begins to click. Greyeyes is also memorable as Rainbird, though what the film does with his character ultimately doesn’t work.

1984’s Firestarter is not remembered as one of the better Stephen King adaptations; beyond classics like Carrie and The Shining, first-rate adaptations The Dead Zone, Christine, and Cujo had all released the previous year. The writer himself called it “flavorless”, and the worst adaptation of his work yet, which was an accurate description at the time.

Still, it had an eclectic supporting cast that featured memorable turns from Oscar winners George C. Scott, Art Carney, and Louise Fletcher, in addition Martin Sheen as Hollister. While it didn’t effectively deliver the kind of rich atmosphere of previous King adaptations, story-wise it was a largely-accurate adaptation of what was on the page.

“Flavorless” is a nice description of 2022’s Firestarter, which fails to live up the already-low bar set by the earlier movie. It’s rough going for a good hour and finally turns interesting once it breaks away from the King novel towards the end, but ultimately fails to reassemble the leftover pieces from the original story into anything meaningful.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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