Fire With Fire review

The moment has arrived: it's a film with both Bruce Willis and Vinnie Jones it. Here's our review of Fire With Fire...

Who’s ever wondered what an ‘oeuvre’ is? Anyone? The writers of Fire With Fire’s production notes obviously think that the term must have passed a lot of people by since they include a handy definition of it in director David Barrett’s biog. A ‘substantial body of work in the entertainment industry’ apparently, which is good to know. Thanks guys.

It goes some way to understanding the type of person who might enjoy Barrett’s directorial debut – if you’ve not read much in the way of stories, or seen any films in the last 20 years, Fire With Fire is a revelation. A rip-roaring, edge of your seat, unpredictable thrill ride.A searing portrayal of a really, really good-looking man driven to extreme lengths in order to protect the woman he loves. And it’s got Vinnie Jones in it. He’s a really good actor.

Fire With Fire is written by Tom O’Connor, but not Tom O’Connor the comedian and presenter of such shows as Crosswits. That would have been something. Halfway through a heated exchange with his nemesis our hero could have pulled out an awesome ‘Always a crosswit, never a cross word’ catchphrase.

As it is, Fire With Fire follows the well-worn generic action-revenge film template nice and closely. Quite sweet of them really – it saves you the trouble of having to pay much attention to things like narrative or listen to what any of the characters are saying. I was able to write a shopping list in my head halfway through the screening and not miss a beat. Must buy peppercorns.

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Care-free fire-fighter hero-guy Josh Duhamel (‘damn I love saving people from fires’ – I’m paraphrasing there) witnesses a murder committed by local gang lord Vincent D’Onofrio (‘Maniacal line reading! Maniacal line reading!’), vows to help obsessed-detective-man Bruce Willis (‘he killed my partner who looks like an accountant I’ve never met in this awkward photo of the two of us’), goes into protective custody.

But then he realises he’s not safe. And, worse than that, the actress-who’s-much-better-than-this that he’s fallen in love with (Rosario Dawson) isn’t safe either. He has to take matters into his own hands. He has to turn from hunted to hunter. He has to fight … Fire With Fire! Wow, that is actually a really good title. Very apt.

O’Connor throws a few more elements into the script so that we don’t have time to wonder whether that’s actually Bruce Willis’ own wardrobe of over-sized polo shirts he’s sporting here, or if he just lost a bet with the costume department.

We have: evil assassin man who wears a fake moustache so that no one will ever be able to ID him under such an inspired disguise (Julian McMahon); rival gang leaders who are really mean to our hero and actually make him throw up and everything (50 Cent and Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson – what’s happened to him after The A-Team? I thought he was the best thing in that!); conflicted lawyer defending the big bad gang lord because he believes in the system (The West Wing’s Richard Schiff for chrissakes!); nameless FBI partner man who gets, like, one line and even then it’s a rubbish one (actually, I’ve no idea who that actor is. The role’s so bad they couldn’t get anyone decent for it.)

All of which tells you that Fire With Fire has a really good cast. Seriously, it’s really good. Director Barrett, a stunt man who worked with Willis on Striking Distance (don’t get me started on that …), must have called in some favours. And then it snowballed like a game of actor dominoes. ‘Oh, Bruce Willis is in it? I’m there.’

‘Rosario Dawson? Really? She was great in A Guide To Recognising Your Saints. And she’s just done The Zookeeper with Kevin James. She’s got really good taste. Where do I sign?’

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There are things in here that are pretty good. Barrett, having worked on Final Destination 2’s opening crash sequence (which is, in all seriousness, pretty terrific) knows how to ratchet up the tension in an action scene. There are one or two good ones here. But they’re let down by over-the-top gore, a nagging insistence to show us violence up close and personal in the belief that this will convey the lengths a normal man will go to when pushed. It doesn’t. It’s just window dressing. Especially when the main character’s grief is punctuated by an array of tight-fitting, body-flattering t-shirts and too many slow motion falling water effects (rain … a shower to wash away the blood … even a dripping tap at one point).

It hovers just above a one star rating thanks to D’Onofrio’s genuinely amusing slash menacing performance (a pantomime villain with a heart of darkness). And it’s never completely terrible, just lazy and bit dull more often than it should be. Plus, the nice folk at Warners gave me a bottle of water to take into the screening. Thanks very much.

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2 out of 5