Ah. We have been conned. Expert stunt co-ordinator-turned-director David Barrett (he did stunts on Jurassic Park III and Spider-Man) brings us today’s Hard Bastard action, which turns out to be one of those direct-to-video efforts that features a big star in a small supporting role, but canny marketers have realised they can shift more units if they pretend said actor is the main star of the movie.
So here we have Fire With Fire, the story of fireman Jeremy Coleman (Transformers’ Josh Duhamel) who realises that the witness protection program cannot keep the people he loves safe from the vicious Aryan perpetrators of a murder he witnessed, so decides to track the villains down and eliminate them himself. Bruce Willis is Mike Cella, a cop who takes an interest in Jeremy’s case, as his own partner was murdered by Aryan ringleader Hagan (Vincent d’Onofrio) and has been looking to nail the son of a bitch for years. As Jeremy takes down Hagan’s gang one by one, utilising skills taught to him by U.S. Marshall girlfriend Talia (Rosario Dawson), herself targeted by Hagan’s goons, Cella helps to keep him one step ahead of the law and the bad guys so that justice can be served. It’s a small role for Bruce, proving that even the action greats are not above starring in DTV drivel to take a quick paycheck, but those sneaky marketing bastards have put Bruce’s face up front and centre on the DVD cover to make it look like he’s the star of the show, when in actual fact he spends most of the movie behind a bloody desk. So, anyone picking this one up expecting another Die Hardstyle explode-a-thon could be in for a rough ride, though that’s not to say Bruce doesn’t get to have few creditable badass moments…
Despite not having a whole lot to get his teeth into, Bruce makes the most of a small part, very believable as the frustrated cop who refuses to yield in his quest to bring a criminal to justice, while the rest of the world turns a blind eye. Hagan’s intimidation of witnesses has meant that he remains at large, and this time Cella is determined that the sucker will go down no matter what. He knows that by putting Jeremy on the stand will put the boy’s life in danger, but he needs him to testify, otherwise he knows this Nazi creep will continue spreading hatred and evil. He spends the whole of his limited screen time simmering away, waiting for his chance to explode with rage, assuring his fellow cops that ‘If they want him, they’re gonna have to go through me!’ It’s interesting to see Bruce play a more restrained role and during his talky good cop/bad cop scenes with his partner (played by Bonnie Somerville –Mona from Friends), you can just see it in his eyes that he can’t wait to get out there and bust some heads. Face to face with Hagan’s fast-talking sleazy lawyer, who insists his client is innocent, Cella erupts, ‘How can you say that shit with a straight face?!?, before being restrained. Bruce may be a little older, but the Die Hard man is most definitely still in there, waiting to burst out and blow shit up.
Cella, for the most part, has to settle for living vicariously through Jeremy as he is the first to twig on to what the vengeful firefighter is up to. He has several chances to bring evidence to light that would seriously screw up Jeremy’s quest, but does his best to keep the young buck ahead of the game. At one point he almost puts out an A.P.B. on the kid after he offs Vinnie Jones’ Limey enforcer, but changes his mind, waiting to see where all this is going. When fingerprints are found, Cella insists that the results must come to him and only him, looking to keep Jeremy on the streets for as long as it suits him. He may not be kicking ass in the traditional sense, but in this one Bruce is most definitely the man pulling the strings. At one point he explains his position to Jeremy, saying, ‘I want ‘em dead and buried just as much as you do. But, I’m a cop…’ You can tell he’s getting a kick out of Jeremy’s vigilantism, because under different circumstances it could quite easily be him out there, and he knows it.
Despite being kept down by bureaucratic bullshit, Cella still gets his chance to shine, when he’s called to a meeting with Hagan who tries to intimidate him too. Taunted and threatened by the bigot and his armed cronies, the tough guy detective doesn’t back down. He just fires that cheeky smirk at them that we know so well, a look that says he doesn’t give rat’s ass what these guys are saying: it’s time to put up or shut up! Refusing to compromise, Cella swaggers away from the meeting, and when one of Hagan’s thugs tries to stop him, he effortless beats the guy down in seconds, a sign that he’s still got a deadly tiger in the tank. Later, just when it looks like he’s about to bring Jeremy in, he reveals his hand, telling him, ‘You can’t do this on your own,’ before letting him go free to face Hagan in a final, deadly encounter.
Fire With Fire is a serviceable enough little action thriller, with some brutal action sequences and some real edge-of-the-seat moments, though it’s a real shame that Bruce doesn’t get involved more often. He definitely does wonders with a small part and his mere presence helps to lift the film to a whole other level, though straight-to-DVD is almost certainly where this one belongs. If anything, Bruce’s scowling, pissed off, Hard Bastard kicking out against the system act definitely whets the appetite for another Die Hard instalment which will thankfully be making its way to theatres very soon! Yippie-ki-yay!!!
INDESTRUCTIBILITY: 4/10 – Doesn’t really see a whole lot of action, though you get the impression he could definitely handle it.
COMBAT SKILLS: 3/10 – Only punches one dude, but does it with such style that you ust know there’s plenty more where that came from.
ATTITUDE: 7/10 – Fights the good fight from behind a desk, so the youn g upstart can wage his war on the streets.
OUTRAGEOUSNESS: 3/10 – Bends the rules to breaking point to bring a baddie to justice, but doesn’t jump through any windows or crash any cars. Disappointing.
BODY COUNT: Possibly one in 97 minutes – rubbish. 1/10
BRUCE’S SCORE: 18/50
So, it has only been a week of this action movie business, but I have to confess I am being sucked right into this world of violent, explosive manliness. By going into the viewing experience with a healthy respect for the rules and clichés of the genre, I have been able to get a kick out of critically-neglected DTV efforts like Fire With Fire. Movies that have garnered quite pitiful ratings on sites like IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes are proving to be thoroughly entertaining, once I accept what the filmmakers and the Hard Bastard involved have been trying to achieve. It has been an entertaining ride so far, and I am curious as to how I will feel about all this a little further down the line. Cheers!