Former NFL defensive end Howie Long’s first starring role is a scorcher.
“Firestorm,” about smokejumpers who parachute into blazing forests to fight fires, may not be art, but it’s fun. The action-adventure sizzles along like a lighted fuse.
Big, strong Long, who serves as a pregame analyst on Fox’s “NFL Sunday,” won’t win any acting awards, but the affable hunk is appealing - like an old-fashioned serial hero. Oddly, he doesn’t shoot a gun or use four-letter words. He does, however, toss a mean ax.
The famed ex-Raider plays a smokejumper who leaps into the eye of a forest inferno with mentor Scott Glenn (“Courage Under Fire”). In the midst of tornadoes of fire whipped up by howling winds, they discover that flames aren’t their only foe on the ground.
It seems that four inmates, including mass murderer William Forsythe (“The Rock”), have escaped from the bus taking them to help fight colliding fires. Desperate, the four “hoods in the woods” take bird-watching naturalist Suzy Amis (“The Usual Suspects”) hostage.
Yep, it’s “48 Hours” meets “Backdraft” and “Die Hard.” Still, the impressive effects, photography, stunts and pacing of “Firestorm” make its familiar plot points seem almost fresh and crisp.
Credit Dean Semler, the Oscar-winning cinematographer, in his directing debut, with keeping things moving. After directing photography on so many action films, including “The Road Warrior” and “Dances With Wolves,” he knows what keeps an audience amused.
To replace himself behind the camera, he tapped fellow Aussie Stephen F. Windom, who’s obviously at home with the director’s hallmark expansive shots and framing. After “Firestorm,” Windom went on to direct photography on Kevin Costner’s often-breathtaking dead-letter epic, “The Postman.”
Long broke into movies as psycho John Travolta’s husky (if rather wooden) sidekick in John Woo’s “Broken Arrow.” Here his broad shoulders tote the film. Glenn has little to do except limp, but Forsythe, as usual, makes a watchable villain and Amis, currently seen doing double duty in Titanic, a feisty ornithologist.
Writer Chris Soth got the idea for “Firestorm” after seeing acres of trees burned in the big fire that swept through Yellowstone National Park in 1988. Written for a screenwriting class at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinema-Television, the script became his master’s thesis.
The film, shot near Vancouver, British Columbia, in fall 1996, had its share of problems, including an out-of-season snowstorm (it’s supposed to be summer) and rain for more than half the shoot. In the ninth week, a Canadian stuntman died when his chute failed to open after he jumped from a helicopter. A skydiving instructor with more than 3,000 jumps, Keith Perepelkin, 32, fell to his death near the base of Stawamus Chief, the largest granite monolith in North America.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “Firestorm” Location: East Sprague, North Division, Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls cinemas Credits: Directed by Dean Semler, starring Howie Long, Scott Glenn, Suzy Amis Running time: 1:29 Rating: R