FIRESTORM (1998)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 29 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence and Language

Directed by: Dean Semler

Written by: Chris Soth

Starring: Howie Long, Scott Glenn, William Forsythe, Suzy Amis & Garwin Sanford

For a film that relies on frequent scenes of characters running away from flames, FIRESTORM is all wet. Sorry, I couldn’t resist making that pun because it’s an accurate descriptor for this lame-brain excuse of an action flick. The studios clearly didn’t have much faith in this dud because it was dumped into an early January release date and the DVD doesn’t even have a menu. FIRESTORM has a whole list of problems and one only redeeming factor. It’s an ugly mess of a film that gets pretty much everything wrong…save for a single awesome moment that saves it from being a complete failure.

Jesse Graves (Howie Long) is a smokejumper, a specially trained firefighter who jumps straights into forest fires. Jesse’s seen a lot of hot messes in his day, but he’s about to face his toughest challenge yet. A mysterious arsonist has started a massive, rapidly spreading forest fire. This dangerous blaze is part of a master scheme by thief/murderer Alexander Earl Shaye (William Forsythe), who uses the chaotic inferno as a means to escape and retrieve a hidden treasure of 37 million dollars. Unfortunately for Shaye and his four goons, Jesse Graves has jumped into the fiery fray and the prison escapees soon find themselves in a heated stand-off against the muscular, square-headed firefighter.

Howie Long was an NFL player on the Raiders for 13 years and then took a misguided brief stint as an actor. FIRESTORM features Howie’s sole headlining role in his career and it’s very apparent why he eventually gave up acting to become a sports commentator. Long is a terrible performer. Not one of the emotions he’s trying to play comes off as the least bit believable and his line delivery constantly feels wooden. He’s possibly the worst actor I’ve seen in an action leading role, which is really saying something when you consider all of the terrible acting we’ve seen in decent/good action flicks. FIRESTORM doesn’t even give Howie the benefit of big dumb fun, because this script is terrible and the action scenes are atrociously boring.

Not even William Forsythe can save this film as the main murderer/thief antagonist. He seems downright bored in this role and who can blame him? He got suckered into playing a blandly-written villain. The most Forsythe gets to do is slowly pick people off one-by-one in rather dull ways and frequently refers to his thugs as “gentlemen.” That’s about the only quirkiness there is to this dull-as-dirt character. Meanwhile, Suzy Amis (who gave up her acting career shortly after this mess) plays bland bird-watcher turned damsel-in-distress Jennifer. Her only functions seem to be getting kidnapped by the villains and occasionally screaming at Howie Long during perilous situations (like hanging off his leg while he’s parachuting off a cliff or climbing over him on a moving motorcycle).

FIRESTORM’s script is filled with so many clichés that it comes dangerous close to bursting into a deadly explosion of bad writing. Numerous clichés occur within mere minutes of each other, including Scott Glenn announcing his future retirement as an aging smokejumper, verbally passing the torch on Howie Long’s character, and capping this off with the sloppy reveal of Long’s deceased father also being a smokejumper (with a cheesy black-and-white photo to boot). These three eye-rolling revelations happen in the same three-minute scene. During the climax, there’s also a half-assed twist that comes out of nowhere and feels like a half-hearted slap in the face.

To further add to the already ridiculously high pile of bad movie clichés, there’s a bus full of chained convicts left in the forest fire’s path as an extra bit of would-be excitement that pays off in the most anti-climactic way possible. Still, one line did make for a good (intentional) laugh. The film begins with an over-the-top rescue scene that features every single character and a dog reacting in slow motion to the heroic deed. It’s so cheesy that you’ll wish you brought nachos. The annoying soundtrack that’s prominent in many moments, rife with extra sound effects, doesn’t help matters either.

Action films (especially cheesy 90s action films) aren’t exactly known for having realistic logic and adhering to the laws of physics, but FIRESTORM’s action sequences are eye-rollingly inept. There’s one fight scene between skydiver Jesse and a former wrestler convict/henchman that is horribly choreographed and among the worst film fights that I’ve ever sat through. It’s terrible to a point where the viewer can point out all the times they actors are leaving themselves open for another attack…and then not taking an opportunity to attack their opponent. The rest of the action sequences range from stupid to boring to stupidly boring, save for a single two-minute scene.

I mentioned there was one redeeming quality that saves FIRESTORM from a failing grade. Well, that comes in one major death that occurs in the final showdown. It’s so ridiculous and absurd that it’s unintentionally hilarious and kind of brilliant. This single scene easily ranks among my favorite villains’ deaths and I won’t dare spoil it in this review. I’d recommend checking out the clip on YouTube though, because then you’ll have watched the only two minutes of merit in this feature-length disaster. Other than that death scene, this is one of the worst action films that I’ve had the displeasure of sitting through. FIRESTORM? More like SHITSTORM!

Grade: D-

DICK TRACY (1990)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

dicktracy-poster

Directed by: Warren Beatty

Written by: Jim Cash & Jack Epps Jr.

(based on the DICK TRACY comic strips by Chester Gould)

Starring: Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, Madonna, Glenne Headly, Charlie Korsmo, Charles Durning, Dick Van Dyke, Dustin Hoffman, William Forsythe, Paul Sorvino, James Caan & Catherine O’Hara

Based on the 1930s comic strip by Chester Gould, DICK TRACY is a strange movie. The visuals are entrancing, the style evokes a feeling of old-fashioned entertainment, and over-the-top makeup brings Gould’s illustrated gangsters to life. However, the film also feels hindered by its bafflingly too simple/too complex screenplay. This will be explained later and one particular subplot is eye-rollingly clichéd in a bad way. This 90s comic adaptation has mostly been forgotten to the annals of time, but it was a big financial success at the time of its release and even won three Academy Awards (Best Original Song, Best Makeup, and Best Art Direction). As of today, DICK TRACY is visually stunning entertainment and its faults (mostly) lend themselves to the film’s overall charm.

dicktracy-1

Dick Tracy (Warren Beatty) is a hard-nosed detective and his favorite hobby is taking bad guys off the streets, much to the dismay of his angsty girlfriend Tess Trueheart (Glenne Headly). Dick finds himself facing his toughest foe yet when mobster Alphonse “Big Boy” Caprice (Al Pacino) takes charge of a city-wide organized crime empire, leading to lots of robberies and murders. To add even more to Dick’s heavy load, he’s recently taken on young apprentice “The Kid” (Charlie Korsmo) and is attempting to get nightclub dancer Breathless Mahoney (Madonna) to testify against Big Boy. Dick isn’t the only crime-fighter in town though, because masked vigilante The Blank has also begun killing off mobsters. Dick certainly has his work cut out for him.

MSDDITR EC007

DICK TRACY is one of those uncommon instances when a screenplay suffers from being too simple and trying to do too much at the same time. That complaint sounds like an oxymoron, but hear me out. The main plot concerns a gun-toting detective trying to take a bunch of gangsters off the city streets, with a big one as a prime target. At the same time, that gangster is trying to take over the city. There’s also a forced love triangle between Dick, Trueheart and Breathless that feels shallow and clichéd…and Dick is also taking a young orphan under his wing…and violent vigilante The Blank is on the loose. All of these storylines receive a significant amount of screen time, but all of them feel shallow and underdeveloped as a result. Though there is fun to be had in watching this movie, it seems cramped and superficial. This is especially true of the anti-climactic finale, which is downright lazy in how it concludes two major plotlines.

MMDDITR EC003

What DICK TRACY lacks in story, it makes up for in style. This movie is gorgeous. Warren Beatty decided upon a pastel of bright colors and never deviates from them. Every single frame appears vibrant and provides more than a fair share of atmosphere. Computer graphics were interspersed with the sets and they blend into the film’s cool comic-inspired tone. The makeup effects are awesome to behold as well. Pretty much every gangster was fitted with some sort of prosthetic to help the actor resemble Gould’s original drawings. Al Pacino is hunched over and has a huge cleft chin, while William Forsythe has a square head and a goofy haircut. There’s also Pruneface, appropriately named for his wrinkled appearance, and Dustin Hoffman as Mumbles, a nervous wreck of a henchman.

MSDDITR EC011

DICK TRACY’s performances range across the board. Warren Beatty is watchable in the lead role, though I’ve never really seen an impressive performance from him yet. Meanwhile, Al Pacino seems to be having a blast as Big Boy Caprice. Known for playing menacing Michael Corleone in THE GODFATHER and over-the-top Tony Montana in SCARFACE, Pacino was clearly having a good time in the role of this purposely cartoony gangster. Charlie Korsmo (WHAT ABOUT BOB?, HOOK) is well cast as The Kid, essentially coming off like a less wussy version of Batman’s Robin. Madonna is surprisingly good as femme fatale Breathless, while Glenne Headly is bland as Tracy’s concerned girlfriend/damsel in distress. As far as the rest of the notable performers go, Paul Sorvino shows up for a blink-and-you-missed-it role, Dustin Hoffman’s Mumbles is woefully unfunny, and William Forsythe’s Flattop is the most unexpectedly creepy character in the film.

dicktracy-5

DICK TRACY was visually stunning at the time of its release and that cinematic flare has held up over two decades later. The film suffers from feeling too simple and too complicated at the same time, which doesn’t seem like a legitimate complaint until you actually watch the movie. The performances are all over the place, with Pacino, Madonna, Forsythe, and Korsmo sticking out as highlights…and Beatty, Headly and Hoffman falling by the wayside of mediocrity. Still, I had a good time watching DICK TRACY. Though the film’s writing is never on the same level as its breathtaking visuals, DICK TRACY will likely entertain viewers of all ages.

Grade: B

THE DEVIL’S REJECTS (2005)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 47 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Sadistic Violence, Strong Sexual Content, Language and Drug Use

DevilsRejects poster

Directed by: Rob Zombie

Written by: Rob Zombie

Starring: Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon Zombie, William Forsythe, Ken Foree, Matthew McGrory, Leslie Easterbrook, Dave Sheridan, Danny Trejo, Brian Posehn, Tom Towles, Michael Berryman & P.J. Soles

Two years after he broke into the horror filmmaking scene with HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES, Rob Zombie returned with a sequel. THE DEVIL’S REJECTS follows the same band of psychopaths who originally appeared in HOUSE, but couldn’t be more different in tone and execution. That’s a very good thing as it shows Zombie’s overall improvement as a filmmaker and storyteller. The film isn’t perfect, but it is a dark, gruesome ride straight into hell.

Devil's Rejects

Set seven months after the events of the first film, DEVIL’S REJECTS kicks off with Sheriff John Wydell (brother to the dead Sheriff in the previous film) leading a violent raid on the Firefly clan’s house of horrors. In the fiery fray, Otis and Baby escape onto the road, while Mama is captured and interrogated. Getting word that the coppers on his tail, crazy clown Captain Spaudling also takes to the road. Together, this trio of redneck psychopaths (Otis, Spaulding, and Baby) come across new victims and attempt to outrun the law, all while Sheriff Wydell resorts to drastic measures to nab them.

DevilsRejects 2

While 1,000 CORPSES definitely had its share of disturbing exploitation-heavy moments, I feel that DEVIL’S REJECTS better captures the gritty feeling that most disturbing 70’s grindhouse films carried. I’d liken the tone of this to something like the original LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. There’s a grimy atmosphere that runs through the entire film. In spite of having some pretty damned disturbing sequences, the screenplay also has a few extremely dark bits of humor. While some of the more obvious ones (a quick trip to an ice cream shop) didn’t work for me at all, other pieces of dialogue came off as hilarious in a really twisted way. These mainly come in little off-hand comments that Otis makes to a small group of future victims.

DevilsRejects 3

Otis is played by a returning Bill Moseley and though his demeanor has changed to resemble Charlie Manson, his demented delivery is still the same. Sheri Moon Zombie also returns as Baby. I wish I could say that she’s not as annoying as she was in the first film, but the only reason that Rob seems to have cast her was to get numerous shots of her butt. Captain Spauding (Sid Haig) is given more wiggle room than he received in CORPSES. He’s one of the main characters this time around, but we only get a few scenes of him in the full-on make-up. Leslie Easterbrook serves as a fitting replacement for Karen Black as Mama Firefly. While the psycho-killers are as interesting as ever, William Forsythe steals the show as good-cop-turned-bad Sheriff Wydell. Forsythe serves as the character who the audience should be rooting for, but his psychotic side increases with each passing second. Side characters include various horror veterans: PJ Soles of HALLOWEEN, Michael Berryman of THE HILLS HAVE EYES, Ken Foree of DAWN OF THE DEAD and Tom Towles of HENRY. Also, Danny Trejo shows up as a blood-thirsty bounty hunter, so that’s worth mentioning.

MCDDERE EC007

This sequel may be vastly superior to Zombie’s directorial debut, but he shows a penchant for a distractingly excessive amount of profanity. When a script is well written and contains cursing, the swearing blends naturally into the dialogue. However, Zombie makes ever single F-bomb stand out. These lines don’t fit well, especially when compared to the better pieces of dialogue in the film. There are a number of great scenes throughout this movie (including one intense kidnapping in a motel), but then we cut to conversations than consist entirely of characters yelling “fuck you!” at each other. It’s a bit jarring to say the least. However, this is the only major complaint that I have with DEVIL’S REJECTS.

MCDDERE EC001

THE DEVIL’S REJECTS is a definite improvement for Zombie’s directorial talent and writing abilities. The characters, as psychotic and repulsive as they might be, are fascinating to watch. There’s also a pitch-black sense of humor that works in various bits of dialogue. The story flows far better than one might expect, especially give the general premise of the film. While certain scenes (I can’t express how much I hate the ice cream scene) stick out like a sore thumb, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS is a remarkably horrific experience. If it sounds up your alley and you haven’t seen it for whatever reason, check this one out!

Grade: B+

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑