1998, R, 89 min. Directed by Dean Semler. Starring Howie Long, Scott Glenn, William Forsythe, Suzy Amis, Christianne Hirt, Garwin Sanford, Sebastian Spence, Michael Greyeyes.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Jan. 9, 1998
If nothing else, Firestorm is surely the best fire-fighting action flick of 1998. Okay, okay, it's the only fire-fighting action flick of 1998. So far. Former Los Angeles Raiders defensive lineman Howie Long plays Jesse Graves, a wilderness “smokejumper” who parachutes into raging forest fires with his crew of firefighters who set backfires and, generally, try to save as much acreage as possible. It's a tough job, made even tougher by the fact that mad-dog killer Earl Shaye (Forsythe) has started a huge wildfire to mask a prison break and is masquerading as a firefighter himself. That's pretty much all there is to Firestorm, and though I went in with low expectations, the experience isn't nearly as bad as you might think. Long, for his part, is a ruggedly handsome actor who can hit his marks and grin with the best of 'em. Maybe it's his NFL Hall of Fame standing, but Long (last seen in John Woo's Broken Arrow) exudes a kind of lightweight John Wayne charm; you get the feeling he'd be equally at home riding the range and shooting at the black hats if it wasn't for the fact that his mammoth footballer's frame might break the horse's back. As Graves' mentor and aide-de-camp, Glenn turns in a predictably (and predictable) leathery performance. Only Amis (currently batting eyes at Bill Paxton in Titanic) seems to have much range here, though even that consists mostly of playing the requisite spunky female hostage. She's easier on the eye than both Forsythe (who pulls out all the stops and sounds remarkably like Michael Wincott in The Crow) and Long, but there's really not much here for her to work with. What there is is a terrific amount of bullets, brawls, and flaming forestline. This is Semler's directorial debut; in the past, the Oscar-winning cinematographer has lensed such visually stunning films as Dances With Wolves and Waterworld as well as George Miller's The Road Warrior. Consequently, Firestorm is a visual stunner, bursting with gripping action scenes set amidst flaming houses, boats, woods, and helicopters. Despite the prosaic and all-too-familiar set-ups and payoffs, Semler gets by nicely on sheer will alone. Nobody's going to throw an Academy Award his way for this one, but Firestorm is a genial, good-natured throwback to simpler action films (i.e., no Will Smith). It's a sprawling, do-or-die, all-American yarn that owes more to John Ford than John Woo, and that's not such a bad thing at all.