'Firestorm' false alarm Review: A former defensive lineman stars in a movie that substitutes action for acting.

January 09, 1998|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

Fires are bad. Fires are even worse when they're started by people who smoke cigarettes.

Firefighters are good. Firefighters are especially good when they're called "smokejumpers," which means they parachute into the scariest fires of all and put them out. Sometimes they even save little girls and their dogs. They say things like, "It's something I gotta do" before they jump. -Smokejumpers are macho!

"Firestorm" is a movie that stars Howie Long as the bravest of all smokejumpers. Howie Long was a defensive lineman for the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders for 13 years. Now he's an actor. That means that when he fills in the blank under "profession," he says he does the same thing as Anthony Hopkins, Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep. Howie has chutzpah!

"Firestorm" has other actors in it. Scott Glenn has been in movies like "Apocalypse Now" and "The Right Stuff." Those were good movies. In "Firestorm," he plays the chief smokejumper, who bosses all the other men (and one lady. There has to be a lady smokejumper, or else the "wacky gang back at H.Q." wouldn't be complete!)

A mean man in a prison wants to escape and get the $37 million he stole. He plots with one of his bad friends to start a forest fire, then pretends to be a work-release prisoner working on a fire gang. He's bad but he's pretty smart!

The bad guy is played by William Forsythe, who was in a nice movie called "Palookaville" a couple of years ago. Rent "Palookaville" and see William Forsythe act!

Forest fires can go out of control, and fast! And when two are started, they can collide and suck all the oxygen out of the air. Someone starts a second forest fire in "Firestorm." Howie must get busy: He must stop the fires, catch the bad guy, make sure his character never grows out of two dimensions and save a pretty bird-watcher. Suzy Amis plays the bird-watcher -- who must have been part of a circus act once, considering how she handles herself on a motorcycle! See "Titanic" and watch Suzy Amis act!

"Firestorm" has another actor: It's called Computer Digital Imaging, and it's the best actor in the whole cast! It makes you think you're seeing two huge forest fires getting bigger and bigger, not to mention hatchets and burning logs hurtling through the air. The Computer Digital Imaging's performance was shepherded by the director, Dean Semler. He puts the same word under "profession" as Orson Welles and John Huston and Martin Scorsese. Dean Semler has guts!

"Firestorm" should be for 10-year-olds. But there are so many naughty words, and so much graphic, sadistic violence, that no one will let their 10-year-olds near it. Guess that means it's for a grown-up's inner 10-year-old. But if "Firestorm" is what their inner 10-year-old thinks is entertaining, they may want to consider Ritalin!

Things get pretty hairy for Howie until the big finale of "Firestorm." Luckily, all the smoke and danger and scary stuff don't seem to bug him, because his face has the same expression on it for the whole hour and a half!

What have we learned? That if you put "Backdraft" and "Cliffhanger" and "Dante's Peak" together, you make a big mess. That Scott Glenn needs to call his agent. And that we should BTC never, ever play with matches -- unless they're within tossing distance of a print of "Firestorm."


Starring Howie Long, Scott Glenn, William Forsythe, Suzy Amis

Directed by Dean Semler

Rated R (violence and language)

Released by 20th Century Fox

Sun score:*

Pub Date: 1/09/98

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