Fire With Fire
Another thing the trailer does is play heavily on two big names, Bruce Willis and Rosario Dawson and so it's worth pointing out that they are side characters and won't be on screen as much as you might expect. Instead this film is about Josh Duhamel and Vincent D'Onofrio, yes there's also Richard Schiff, Kevin Dunn, Julian McMahon, Vinnie Jones and 50 Cent, but none of them are in the film for any real length of time either.
Finally, while this is getting a UK cinema release on the 8th of March it has already seen a US release on 31st August 2012 and has been released on DVD and Blu-ray over there. These kinds of overly long staggered release schedules aren't a good sign for a film nor are they doing anything to combat piracy. Still, let's give it a go.
So the story is one we've seen before but with a Fireman who puts everything into his job you can see the motivation he has to firstly testify against the feared criminal and secondly to decide to fight for his life. This is something new to draw the attention and it makes you believe in what he's doing a little more, however the film itself doesn't do that believability any favours at all, and it all starts with the opening scene.
Backslapping, gung-ho, all-American, predictable cheese opens the film with the most groan-worthy scene I've witnessed in some time. It was dire and seemed to belong in some seventies film where the men are all conquering and generally awesome. This scene lowered the tone for the film and disappointed more than the overly revealing trailer had, and I had already thought the trailer had ruined the film.
There was one positive thing at the beginning of the film and those were the titles. They were rather interestingly put together and in the process of them running they helped tell some of the background story for the film. In fact everything after that opening scene did rise up somewhat and it seemed that the film was getting better as it went on. Perhaps that was the intention, showing the worst possible light and building upwards, mind you it didn't build far.
After that poor opening I did find myself getting drawn into the story and the characters and the story improved as the pace began pulling me forward into the action thriller. We aren't left hanging around too long and that has some good points and some bad points. The good is that we feel the film driving on and we aren't left sitting around giving more of a thriller feel, the bad is that it drives on too fast through the standard "working up to the boss" revenge plot.
In fact it seemed to go so fast through here that it even lost sight of that standard revenge plot. In films like that you're supposed to get the feeling that they are working their way up but here the lead accidentally killed a couple of guys, quickly tortured another, and suddenly he's at the gang headquarters meet facing the head honcho. It all seemed to be a little too easy to find him and get through his men.
Before we got there though the story got a little more interesting as we saw him in his temporary new life being hunted down by professionally trained killers, but from there it follows a pretty standard line. There are some interesting things on the way such as he doesn't turn into an instant killing machine and the first kills he makes are more forced self-defence and by accident than anything, and after one of them he actually throws up perhaps through adrenaline and shock. I liked that touch because it was trying to keep the character with us for as long as possible, or rather us with the character.
That first kill, despite the nice touches, was the start of the clichés though, the accidental killing was something we've seen in so many other films and it didn't feel any different here. From there on the clichés just kept coming and the film started to turn towards the level of the opening scene again, a point it actually managed to reach and surpass come the closing sequence.
That showdown was where the bottom dropped out of the film for me. The lead uses his fireman skills - although it seemed very loosely as he just set a fire and wore his lose fitting jacket with his breathing apparatus on and off from moment to moment, and judging from the state of some of the rooms not really required - and sets about racing to the top room where the bad guy is waiting and despatching him. This is done with a cheesy predictability that ruins everything else the film had tried to recoup from the opening scene, I felt like I was watching the scene out of Last Action Hero on the rooftop with the axe killer.
To top it all the character Rosario Dawson was playing is reduced to a weak, screaming little girl who can't do anything for herself after being portrayed as so strong earlier on. Her opening character is independent and capable and was one of the more interesting in this earlier section and yet by the end they've just reduced her to the female in need of rescue from this lone fireman. This is of course forgetting that she might have the weight of the FBI behind her.
I think I resented this part the most because Dawson's character and the relationship with the lead was what was keeping me interested in the film earlier and yet every time we saw her she was getting weaker and weaker and less and less interesting. Similarly the character relationship between the criminal and the policeman in the guise of Bruce Willis did promise much more but it was never really explored, Willis' character was there to provide some information and growl during a few scenes, showing the impotence of the official channels to stop the gang leader.
Finally I feel bad for Vincent D'Onofrio for he has a leading role as the main villain, plays him very well drawing you to him when he's on screen and he seems to have plenty of character to deliver. Yet he doesn't get a great deal of a chance and come the end of the film is as emasculated as Dawson's FBI agent.
Fire With Fire is pretty standard fare with a terribly mishandled ending and half-hearted story lines throughout. This is the kind of wash-over entertainment you could see on the television for free or perhaps, if you're pushed, a date film, but really there are far better films to be spending your money on than this.
The big name actors aren't in the film for that long and Rosario Dawson's character is reduced to the standard female in need of rescue, a disappointing end for her character and the story. The plot rushes too quickly through the fireman working his way towards the criminal boss and when we get there the showdown is almost comic in nature.
The best parts of this film are before anything really happens, before Josh Duhamel's character races off on his spree and we have Dawson and Willis interacting with the exceptionally powerful and interesting criminal played by Vincent D'Onofrio. I really wanted to see more of him as he was one of the best things about the entire film both in actor and character. Once again though we're given just enough so we can push forward with the lead's weak revenge story that plays out just as you expect.
Someone will wake you when it's all done, or perhaps the hapless ending will.