Throw-Back Movie Review: "Fire with Fire" by Ben Foutch
Director: Duncan Gibbins
Writers: Bill Phillips, Warren Skaaren
Stars: Craig Sheffer, Virginia Madsen, Jon Polito, and D.B. Sweeney
Run Time: 103 min
Fire with Fire is a "star-crossed lovers" date movie that you might remember if you grew up in the 80s. Being a fan of both Virginia Madsen and Craig Sheffer, I stumbled across this when looking through their filmographies and decided to give it a try. While it boasts a few memorable scenes, the derivative plot trope, annoying side characters and hokey climax keep it from achieving anything beyond a standard romantic drama entry.
Joe (Sheffer) is a detainee at a prison camp for juveniles who doesn't quite fit in with the rest of the guys. During a training exercise in the forest, he stumbles upon Lisa (Madsen) floating on a small pond, recreating a scene from a famous painting. The two make eye contact and spark an instant attraction. During a joint dance held at Lisa's all-girl Catholic school, the two spend some time together and become inseparable. The problem is that this kind of behavior is forbidden in both camps. Not wanting to live apart, they decide to run away with the heat closing in on them.
Madsen and Sheffer have good chemistry together which makes the story somewhat intriguing, regardless of how derivative it is. But, I can't fault the material too much, because this isn't trying to be something new. It is basically a Romeo and Juliet for the 80's pop crowd, without the Shakespearean diction. So, it definitely serves its purpose for those looking for a dose of sappy romance with a relatable level of adolescent angst and hormonal desires. I just can't help but wonder, that in the right hands, this could have been considered a classic for the time period.
The side players are uninteresting and are often infuriating, unable to channel any relevance besides portraying obstacles for the leads. This hurts the filler space, which there is plenty, and makes those particular scenes a chore. Also, the last act is so clumsily put together that, in what should have been serious and suspenseful, just comes off like a made for TV cheese fest. Maybe it's just my testosterone talking, but most of the rising tensions come off as over dramatic and downright silly. However, I'm not its target audience, and can definitely see this being a staple romance flick for an 80's child, especially of the female gender. It certainly has a welcoming aesthetic with some interesting shots and isn't close to being forgettable.
Guys, don't waste your time unless you want to watch this with your significant other or are trying to broaden your horizons. Ladies, if you are interested in this sort of story or like 80's films, sit down with this one, assuming you can find it. Fire with Fire is not original, but it also doesn't let the genre down.