At a lean 88 minutes but with a bulky hero, "Firestorm" is a respectable action-adventure about smoke jumpers, forest-fire fighters who parachute into emergency situations with their trusty Pulaskis and save the day. Alas, 20th Century Fox's wide release, its first salvo of 1998, will burn out quickly after an uninspiring opening weekend.
"Fox NFL Sunday" co-host and former Raiders defender Howie Long
is the marquee attraction in the directorial debut of cinematographer Dean Semler
, an Oscar winner for "Dances With Wolves" and all-pro genre veteran ("Waterworld", "The Last Action Hero").
Filmed splendidly in wide screen by Stephen F. Windon ("The Postman"), "Firestorm" shares with Jan De Bont's "Speed" a calculated recklessness in storytelling and execution that relies heavily on visuals with minimal characterizations. But rookie Chris Soth
's screenplay is mostly unbelievable, and the main attraction has the personality and lines of a friendly robot.
Cutting an impressive figure as he leaps from helicopters and off cliffs, Long deserves more. He's mean and in command when there's a backfire to be lit, but there's no back story to ignite his charisma. While there is a damsel in distress -- Suzy Amis
as a gutsy ornithologist -- there are no romantic sparks for the superguy as he saves people threatened by falling trees and such.
Opposite the muscle-man treatment of Long's character, there must be a villain, but Semler gives William Forsythe enough room to make his escaping convict a memorable rat. Reliable Scott Glenn
is the film's injured quarterback, who rejoins the hero business when a busload of firemen is toasted but not baked.
Blazing computers swing into action for the disaster-movie conclusion in which heroes and villains are caught in a speedy inferno.
Overall, this shameless scorcher employs enough image-distorting heat waves and closeups of matches to explore fully the incendiary milieu. The stunts are sizzling, and the sound and editing are hot stuff, but J. Peter Robinson
's routine score fizzles.
20th Century Fox
A Loeb/Weisman production
Director: Dean Semler
Producers: Joseph Loeb III, Matthew Weisman
Thomas M. Hammel
Screenwriter: Chris Soth
Executive producer: Louise Rosner
Director of photography: Stephen F. Windon
Production designers: Richard Paris
Linda Del Rosario
Editor: Jack Hofstra
Music: J. Peter Robinson
Casting: Allison Gordon
Jesse: Howie Long
Wynt: Scott Glenn
Shaye: William Forsythe
Jennifer: Suzy Amis
Monica: Christianne Hirt
Pete: Garwin Sanford
Cowboy: Sebastian Spence
Running time -- 88 minutes
MPAA rating: R