Picks and Pans Review: Firestarter

updated 05/28/1984 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/28/1984 01:00AM

Despite the fact that every other minute some villain bursts into flame, this film never quite catches fire. Based on the Stephen King novel about a little girl who can make anything burn just by willing it, the movie is oddly lacking in suspense. It does boast an extraordinary cast. Drew (E.T.) Barrymore, 9, is the heroine, mixing a touching little-girl vulnerability with the more fiery aspects of her personality. George C. Scott acts the devil out of his part as a ruthless hitman who works for a government agency that wants to kidnap Drew and turn her into a superweapon. David (An Officer and a Gentleman) Keith mixes hysteria and paternal concern as Barrymore's father, who is, not incidentally, telepathic. Art Carney adds a little gem of a performance as a kindly, tough-minded farmer. The cast also includes Louise Fletcher, Martin Sheen, Moses Gunn and Freddie Jones, and none of them are clinkers either, at least until Barrymore commences charbroiling them. Such a splendid cast makes it easy to overlook idiotic plot turns and some sloppy editing. The movie, though, lacks momentum. What should be a powerful climax, when Barrymore finally confronts Scott, is tossed off. Maybe it would be wrong to expect subtlety from director Mark Lester, whose previous films include Truck Stop Women. Or maybe we're all Stephen King-ed out. He has become a monster—The Horror Author Who Consumed the Pop Culture—and we'd be better off if he'd take a year or two off and come back as Stephen King II. (R)

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