Lionsgate // 2012 // 97 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // November 28th, 2012
Revenge has its own set of rules.
Remember that bygone era when a movie would play over and over again when it debuted on cable? Now with millions of people around the world hooked up to television, cable, and streaming video services with potential twenty-four-hour availability, content providers are faced with a gaping maw that devours content and has little use for rewatching the same things over and over again like the days of yesteryear. Nope, filmmakers have to fill a void that seems to only grow in size as more and more people find new ways to plug into the stream. That's the only explanation for films like Fire with Fire. Though it features a solid cast, it's a low B-level picture at best and worthwhile only as a diversion on cable or a streaming service.
Jeremy (Josh Duhamel, Transformers) is a firefighter who witnesses a killing by a notorious gangster (Vincent D'Onofrio, The Salton Sea). He agrees to testify and is put into witness protection, where he meets (and falls for) Talia (Rosario Dawson, Clerks II). However, his friends start to die, and Jeremy must come out of hiding to wage a one-man war on crime.
No one putting Fire with Fire in their player of choice is going in expecting Shakespeare. Though there are some big names on the marquee, it's not like the film got a theatrical release or a big ad campaign. Even people like Bruce Willis and Vincent D'Onofrio have to eat, and a flick like Fire with Fire pays the bills. So, I can look past the cookie-cutter action, the done-to-death vigilante plot, and the fact that pretty much everything about this production is (and has been for decades) a cliché.
What's difficult to overlook, however, is just how horribly miscast the film is. It's wonderful that the people who produced Fire with Fire got such a talented bunch of people together, but it's a total tragedy to see how horribly they're wasted. Josh Duhamel is a fine actor, but it's really, really hard to believe him as the reluctant hero. He's too much of a badass to be believable as the guy who has to be convinced to be a vigilante. He seems more like a guy you have to hold back from protecting his friends rather than a guy who has to be pushed to it. Similarly, Rosario Dawson doesn't track as the damsel that the film sometimes makes her out to be. She's a federal agent and could carry her own vengeance movie, but here she's wasted. Bruce Willis is actually perfectly cast as the cop looking for revenge, but he's not given enough to do so his performance is perfunctory. Meanwhile, Vincent D'Onofrio is given too much to do -- his Southern Neo-Nazi seems imported from a much more dramatic film than this one.
In the film's defense, Fire with Fire (Blu-ray) is surprisingly good. The film was shot digitally and get a 2.40:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer that tack sharp. Detail is strong in pretty much every scene, and colors are well-saturated throughout. Even darker scenes maintain depth, and noise isn't a significant problem. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is similarly impressive. Low end booms during action sequences, and dialogue is clean and clear from the front. Directionality is maintained throughout and is especially good during fights.
Extras are also more than a film of this budget usually gets. Things start off with a commentary featuring director David Barrett and cinematographer Christopher Probst. They spend a lot of time on technical and production details. Another commentary features actors D'Onofrio, Eric Winter, and James Lesure. The trio aren't quite as chatty, though D'Onofrio's occasional pronouncements are amusing. We also get almost two hours of additional interviews with the cast and crew. In addition to those we hear in the commentary track, there are also interviews with 50 Cent, Vinnie Jones, and Josh Duhamel. Finally, the film's trailer is available as well.
If all you're looking for is 97 minutes of action in a not-too-demanding package, then Fire with Fire might satisfy those with a high tolerance for mediocrity. The film isn't good enough to thrill or bad enough to offend, sitting in that intermediate zone where late-night boredom will likely push a lot of curious viewers towards the film.
The worst part about Fire with Fire is the sense of missed opportunity. I'm no Orson Welles, but I can't help feeling that with the budget and cast of this film I could have made something slightly more memorable than another film about someone coming out of witness protection to get revenge on a criminal. Fire with Fire (Blu-ray) isn't at total waste of time for fans of the actors involved, but even a better-than-average Blu-ray can't make this worth more than a rental.
Guilty of mediocrity.
Review content copyright © 2012 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated R