Published January 1, 1998
Firestorm is the kind of picture which it would be nice to be able to encourage with a sympathetic review. It is the story of heroic men—in this case the legendary “smoke jumpers” who parachute into forest fires to help put them out—fighting against both nature and bad guys and prevailing against both. Nor is there any of the deliberate knowingness, the ironic self-reference that has been such a blight on the industry since the days of Mr. Indiana Jones. But the picture shows us that it is not enough to be good and not enough to be earnest. You also have to get real, and I’m sorry to have to report that the acting skills of Howie Long, the former Oakland Raiders linebacker, in the leading role are not equal to this demand. Nor are those of the writer, Chris Soth, or the director, Dean Semler.
Like Titanic, this is essentially an old-fashioned B picture with an A budget, a movie which, if it is worth seeing at all, is worth seeing only for the pictures and the special effects. The plot is too preposterous for words, the characters are uniformly uninteresting and, in spite of being ostensibly traditionalist, it can’t seem to do without some of the most tired clichés of our cinematic times. Here, for instance, you will find a criminal mastermind of exemplary ruthlessness (William Forsythe) but limited marksmanship who could have been bought off the peg from central casting. Here is also a motorcycle chase that, if it was not ripped off from the latest Bond film, must have had a common ancestor with it. Most annoying to me was the completely unnecessary as well as unbelievable betrayal of his comrades by one of the good guys. I guess the filmmakers thought this would make them look more hip and sophisticated.
Above all there is a nature girl (Suzy Amis) and bird watcher (“ornithologist” she insists) who, naturally, turns out to be skilled in survival techniques (taught to her by her Marine father) and improvised orthopedic medicine as well as being built like a supermodel. Rather quaintly she is not only endangered by the forest fire (through having, apparently, no sense of smell) but also falls into the clutches of the bad guy for all the world like an old-fashioned damsel in distress. And not even once does the film show her felling men twice her size with a single blow of her nose. Is this enough to recommend the picture? Alas no. This is strictly one for those, ages approximately 10-16, who would use the word “cool” to describe images of one man’s thrusting another man’s head through the bottom of an upturned boat and roasting it in a sudden blast of flame.
Come to think of it, that is rather cool, isn’t it?