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Fire With Fire

2012 | 97 min | R | 2.39:1

Fire With Fire


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Theatrical release date

 02 November, 2012
 08 March, 2013

Country of origin

 United States



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Screenshots from Fire with Fire Blu-ray

Fire With Fire Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, November 1, 2012

“Fire with Fire” is a vigilante tale with a butch title (though filmgoers of a certain age will undoubtedly recall a 1986 Virginia Madsen picture of the same name and its screechy Wild Blue theme song), though nothing especially harsh occurs during the movie. Attracting a wide range of talent and celebrity, the effort has the goods to transform into an unrelenting machine of thrills, smacking the audience around with displays of intimidation and bloodthirsty revenge. The actual feature spends much of its run time in neutral with actors either unprepared for the demands of the subgenre or locked in paycheck mode, stiffly working through tepid dialogue, tedious procedural events, and dull romantic yearnings. There’s potential here for the taking, but nobody in the production seems all that inspired to kick “Fire with Fire” into overdrive.

An honest firefighter who’s dedicated his life to preserving the memory of his deceased parents, Jeremy (Josh Duhamel) is eager to spend a little down time with his friends after the close of a taxing shift. Entering a convenience store to grab some essentials, Jeremy happens to witness a brutal gangland killing orchestrated by Aryan Brotherhood leader Hagan (Vincent D’Onofrio), a man who once killed Detective Cella’s (Bruce Willis) partner. Agreeing to testify against Hagan, Jeremy is placed into the witness protection program, moved from California to Louisiana, and gifted a federal supervisor in Talia (Rosario Dawson), with whom he becomes intimate. When Hagan’s hired goons, including an unstoppable assassin (Julian McMahon), start killing off Jeremy’s closest friends, the firefighter realizes there’s no stopping the criminal kingpin through legal channels, electing to return to California and do the dirty work himself. With Cella piecing together the clues, Jeremy arms himself with the help of a gang leader (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson), practicing the routine of murder as he works up the criminal food chain, trusting his deeds will secure a future with Talia.

“Fire with Fire” is part of a new breed of mid-budget entertainment, packaged together with a mile-long list of financiers and creative forces (the credits list a whopping 35 producers) who entice stars in need of cash to make the pilgrimage to either Detroit or New Orleans and make a little noise in dim actioners that place a heavy emphasis on violence and, if the production goes anywhere near 50 Cent’s hands, gun fetishism. “Fire with Fire” elects the southern routine, trying to make a ruckus in the Big Easy, though the production hardly makes ample use of the location, electing to stage much of the picture in empty warehouses and nondescript streets, missing a grand opportunity to inject some needed personality into an otherwise drab thriller.

Without a cultural imprint to explore, director David Barrett relies on his ensemble to flavor the film. His permissiveness is disheartening, allowing a ham like D’Onofrio free reign to chew the scenery as a Cajun Neo-Nazi, showcasing an iffy drawl while a pronounced swastika tattoo peeks out of the top of his button-down shirt. It’s a flashy performance, used to compensate for the lack of electricity running through this supposed exploitation production, finding Duhamel wildly miscast as the wuss-gone-wrong, overplaying Jeremy’s trembling learning curve without a climactic show of force/erosion of innocence that typically buttons such a formulaic character arc. Dawson is more alert as the love interest, but she also looks confused, caught between damsel-in-distressed nonsense (the confident actress can’t sell wimpy) and federal agent blue steel. Willis looks in need of a pillow at all times, barely opening his eyelids as the feature’s foundation of justice. Richard Schiff (as Hagan’s scumbag lawyer), Kevin Dunn, Vinnie Jones, and Bonnie Somerville also appear, making the cast eclectic but ineffective, with everyone struggling to make hideous dialogue by screenwriter Tom O’Connor stand up and shout. It’s a losing battle, especially when the writing uses the line “he’s a ghost” twice to describe the deletion of Jeremy’s personal records.

On the plus side, Barrett only sets aside a single scene for 50 Cent, here playing an arrogant California gang leader willing to sell a weapon to Jeremy. Not that “Fire with Fire” is worth a recommendation, but those outright avoiding the picture because of the rapper’s appearance might be heartened to know it’s more of a cameo, over as soon as it begins.

For “Fire with Fire” to work, it needed grit, rage, and a great deal of provocative material to get the audience interested in Jeremy’s vigilante quest. The material needs to snowball, generating a hunger to see the character carry out his vicious mission, eradicating those the law cannot touch. The script never arrives at this level of carefree engagement, too wrapped up in procedural details in an effort to make this cartoon plausible. Barrett does make room to detail gaping head wounds and explosions, but it’s a dreary habit, always souring potential bursts of excitement. “Fire with Fire” is winded when it should rumble, rendering it ineffective as soaring escapism.

Starring: Josh Duhamel, Bruce Willis, Rosario Dawson, Vincent D'Onofrio, Vinnie Jones, Richard Schiff
Director: David Barrett

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