Fire With Fire

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Directed by Duncan Gibbins

Produced by Gary Nardino

Screenplay by Ben Pillips/Warren Skaaren/Paul Boorstin/Sharon Boorstin

People often ask me about my process for writing movie reviews and I beg you indulgence for a few minutes while I outline said process. I assure you that I’ll tie it into this review.

If I see a movie in a theater I’ll usually write a review of it that same day. Mainly because I want to convey the same emotion I felt watching the movie in the theater in that review and if I sit and think about it too long, that will go away. But if I watch a movie at home I intend to review I’ll watch it twice. The first time is strictly for the entertainment value. The second time is for the review and I’ll take notes while watching it. And that brings us to FIRE WITH FIRE. I’m going to share with you the notes I took while watching it the second time for this review:

Jon Polito is skinny as fuck in this movie but he still was bald as a bowling ball on top. Good acting job, tho. But when is Jon Polito not good?

Virginia Madsen had to be all of what, 22, 23 when she made this movie? And even then she had an absolutely astounding head of hair.

Tuvok’s in this movie? Holy shit.

The nuns put together a pretty kickass playlist for the dance. But since the head nun is Jean Smart maybe it’s not very much of a surprise.

Who the hell let D. B. Sweeney in this movie?

Hey, that’s the chick from “Dream Warriors.” Got to look up her name (It’s Penelope Sudrow, btw) She can dance! 

Love that about 1980s movies. No CGI. They actually found a couple of stuntmen crazy enough to jump off that damn cliff.

It’s a shame how much Shakespeare has been shamelessly stolen. If it hadn’t been for “Romeo & Juliet” there’s a whole genre of movies that would never have been created.

I ended with the “Romeo & Juliet” note because that’s what we have here in FIRE WITH FIRE. Joe Fisk (Craig Sheffer) is serving time in a juvenile delinquent facility right down the road from a Catholic girl’s school (and who was the genius planner who thought that was a good idea?). Lisa Taylor (Virginia Madsen) is a student at that girl’s school. She and Joe meet by accident in the woods when she’s working on a photography assignment. She’s floating in a lake in a white dress and Joe immediately falls in love with her as he considers her the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen in his life.

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He desperately wants to see again but as he’s constantly reminded by Jerry (Tim Russ) one of the guards of the facility, he’s only got a few months to go until he’s released and he doesn’t need to jeopardize that. Especially since Mr. Duchard (Jon Polito) the boss of the facility is just looking for a chance to upgrade Joe to the state pen.

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FIRE WITH FIRE, Virginia Madsen, Craig Sheffer, 1986. (c) Paramount Pictures.

The young lovers have a chance to get together when Lisa proposes to Sister Marie (Jean Smart) the head of the school that it might be a good idea for the girl’s school to host a dance with the juvies. This leads to the movie’s goofiest and funniest sequence and one I couldn’t stop laughing at.

Sooner or later raging hormones take over and Joe and Lisa meet for an illicit sexual tryst in a graveyard crypt (yeah, you read that right) and they get busted. Joe decides to go completely off the reservation, steals a car and snatches Lisa from the girls school and they both go on the run. Can Our Young Lovers Find Happiness and Indulge Their True Love or will they be hounded to their inevitable end?

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And actually FIRE WITH FIRE does end on a happier note than most of these “Romeo & Juliet” knockoffs. Take “West Side Story” for instance. Take out the songs and dancing and you’d have a movie so depressing and bleak you’d drink Drano while the end credits are rolling. But even though the main characters of FIRE WITH FIRE don’t work to deserve their happy ending as we’re just supposed to emphasize with them because they’re such such SWEET KIDS! The movie’s story is nothing more than the age old conflict between Youthful Rebellion Against Adult Supervision/Authority. But I went along with it because the movie doesn’t pretend or aspire to be more than what it is: disposable popcorn entertainment and I respect any movie that knows what it is and doesn’t try to be anything more than that and does it well. If you’re a fan of Jon Polito and Virginia Madsen and want to see some early work of theirs, I recommend it. It’s not a Must See Movie or even one that I would recommend as a prime example of 1980s cinema but it’s a fun and enjoyable time waster. If you want to see it and you’re not a member of Amazon Prime, do what I did and rent it for 48 hours from YouTube for $2.99. Enjoy.

 PG-13

103 Minutes

 

 

 

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3 thoughts on “Fire With Fire

  1. Thank you for another great review at my behest, Derrick! I always wondered why that film resonated with me, and a few others I have known, so much back when I saw it, and this question may have been revealed in this adroit observation of yours from the review:

    “But even though the main characters of FIRE WITH FIRE don’t work to deserve their happy ending as we’re just supposed to emphasize with them because they’re such such SWEET KIDS! The movie’s story is nothing more than the age old conflict between Youthful Rebellion Against Adult Supervision/Authority. But I went along with it because the movie doesn’t pretend or aspire to be more than what it is: disposable popcorn entertainment and I respect any movie that knows what it is and doesn’t try to be anything more than that and does it well.”

    As a youth liberationist long before it was even sorta-semi-respectable to be one (including during my high school years back in ’86, when this film was released, and half of my teachers wanted to strangle me to death), the theme you noted really had a strong impact on me. Now don’t get me wrong, I would never support or applaud youths going against adult authority merely for the sake of doing so, especially in a situation where mutual respect between the age groups was evident. But seeing it highlighted in a situation where the two younger folks had no choice but to go against adult authority since it was keeping two people who loved each other at first sight apart, that made Joe and Lisa heroes to me. As I saw it, their situation and mutual determination to risk all for what they wanted most when it was forcibly kept from them merely so adults could maintain control was enough for them to “earn” my support and cheers. They weren’t out to hurt anyone, they just wanted to be together, and out of control from others (granted, Joe did have a legitimate reason for ending up in juvie, but he wasn’t a real criminal, and he only did what he did to vent over a very horrible decision his mother made). That said, yes the film was popcorn entertainment and it was just the latest knock-off of a long-standing theme in literature and film, but I think it did so with pizazz (is that word still acceptable now?) and style, which is another reason I really liked it.

    I was also a long-time fan of Penelope Sudrow, as I had such a crush on her back in the day since first seeing her in “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.” It’s a shame her career never seems to have taken off even in B-movies, since I do not recall seeing her in any film after that other than this one and another horror flick. I also had a major crush on Virginia Madsen starting in this movie, not just because she was as gorgeous as Aphrodite, but because she was a great actress who played Lisa Taylor as a cool, strong, and independently minded girl who was uber-crafty.

    One last thing I loved about this film was the totally kick-ass soundtrack! That includes the titular theme song, and it’s awesome music video, courtesy of WIld Blue:

  2. Whoops! I left a link to a video of a song from The Alan Parson’s Project, which is cool enough, but totally off-topic, Here is the link to the video of relevance from this movie:

    1. Now I see what my error was. I was leaving a link to my entire playlist rather than just the one song of relevance, which embeds the first video in your playlist. Interesting learning experience! But anyway, here is the correct link to Wild Blue’s music video for “Fire With Fire”:

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