It's always depressing when an action movie presents a plot idea that, though reminiscent of earlier ventures, at least comes off as a new spin on an old concept -- and then fails to live up to even that low standard. Sure, Firestorm might be described as Con Air meets Backdraft, but the little-known fact that state prisoners are brought in to assist firefighters in national parks does set up enough tension to create what could have been a compelling plot. Unfortunately, wooden acting, lousy timing and a coincidence-laden story thoroughly kill that possibility.

The bad acting is to be expected. Howie Long, who plays his first leading role as Firestorm's hero, Jesse, started his career as a football player and then became a sportscaster; his job history shows every time he delivers a line. In the movie's slow-moving first half, the writers try for what's supposed to be banter, but Long's strident monotone fouls the attempt, never taking on more inflection than a play-by-play requires.

Luckily, once the setup's over and the noise of engines and roaring flames fills the theater's speakers, Long gets to shut up and dash around being heroic. Alas, we're still saddled with the villainous ramblings of escape mastermind Shaye (William Forsythe). John Malkovich's character in Con Air would have slapped him and sent him back to bad-guy school.

In the frenzy of the second half, the writers seem to toss in unbelievable gimmicks where a credible solution would take too long. A few gems: Why would a general store have a motorcycle on a display stand -- in good working order and with a full gas tank? Why does an ornithologist with Marine combat training (a strange coincidence itself) fail to use it to escape her kidnappers? How can a shotgun miss at four feet? How does a fire that should suck all the oxygen out of an area decimate everything except the people in an air pocket under a capsized boat ... with a hole in its hull?

There's more, of course. But finding such inanities is the only fun this movie provides, and if you must see it, you'll want to compile your own list.

Directed by Dean Semler. With Howie Long, Scott Glenna and William Forsythe.
Rated R.
88 minutes.


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