Wilder Napalm (1993)

Firestarter as a romantic comedy?

Well, yes, more or less.  Although it is as much about the relationship between two feuding brothers as it is about the romantic triangle that kindles (sorry, you can’t help it with this sort of film) their long-smoldering (see what I mean?) resentment against each other.

And I suppose it does more or less make sense that it was directed by Glenn Gordon Caron who is best remembered as the creator of Moonlighting (although he also created the equally successful series Medium.  And,while we’re on the subject, the not-so-successful SF series Now and Again), a show which — at least in its first season — gave us the same brand of light-hearted romance tinged with a bit of fantasy.

Well, maybe not quite so much fantasy.  But then David and Maddie couldn’t start fires with their minds.

Wilder (Arliss Howard), a volunteer fireman and clerk at a photo developing kiosk, keeps his powers secret and hidden, for fear that the government might want to dissect him: “You’ve read Stephen King’s Firestarter.”

His brother Wallace, a professional clown with a travelling carnival (Dennis Quaid) sees his fiery talent as a ticket to fame and fortune — And an appearance on the David Letterman show.

And stuck in the middle is Wilder’s wife, Vida (a wacky performance by Debra Winger at the top of her game), who chose him over Wallace.  She loves fire just a little too much and  has been stuck in their trailer on house arrest for a year thanks to her clever trick for clearing the sidewalk.

With flaming gasoline, naturally.

And driving this increasingly violent and pyrotechnic confrontation is a terrible secret the two brothers share from their childhood, when the misuse of their gifts led to tragedy…

Ignore the poor reviews this one has received.  I quite enjoyed it thanks to the great — if somewhat exaggerated performances — the solid — if somewhat wacky — characters and the well-crafted — if decidedly eccentric — story.  Along the way, we have Jim Varney as Wallace’s perpetually aggressive henchman (who really, really wants to go to Hollywood, so much that’s he’s willing to give away Carnival rides he doesn’t own); M. Emmet Walsh as a fatherly fire chief suspicious of all the small fires which Vida “accidentally” starts while Wilder is at work  — just so she can see him; and the members of The Mighty Echoes, an A Capella Doo Wop group, as the singing firemen who play Greek Chorus throughout the film.

Unfortunately, this one was made in the Nineties, so instead of Firestarter‘s practical fireballs, they are digital, and just don’t look very real.  Despite setting everything around them on fire (with a particularly impressive major setpiece at a miniature golf course) the fire sequences are never as impressive as those in the earlier film.

But I guess you can’t have everything.

Instead, we got an eccentric, funny, upbeat and often unexpected little minor gem of a comedy from one of the best writers around, with three great leads, a good backing cast and a slow-burn battle of the extension cords.

So give it a chance.  You might even want to try if for your next date night.  It’s definitely going to be more fun than the latest chick flick, whether it has enigmatic millionaires or spunky go-getter girls trying to make it in a man’s world.

After all, they don’t have clowns, carnival rides, burning dragons or even midnight lawn mower rides.

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