Revenge movies. You've seen one, you've seen 'em all, right? Good guy/gal gets into the wrong situation, bad stuff happens, and then they want revenge. They spend the next half of the movie tracking the perpetrator down, only to find them and battle it out in a climactic one-on-one brawl. In the broad strokes, 'Fire With Fire', the first feature film from TV director David Barrett, doesn't stand out from the pack. But in the details, the movie reveals itself to be something of a different animal.
Josh Duhamel stars as Jeremy Coleman, a firefighter from Long Beach, CA. He seems to have it all. He's handsome, loves his job, and can have any woman he wants. Things are going great until he witnesses a convenience store shooting at the hands of white supremacist David Hagan (Vincent D'Onofrio). Despite threats on his life, Jeremy agrees to testify against Hagan in court. In order to keep him safe, Detective Cella (Bruce Willis) sends Jeremy into witness protection in Louisiana. While there, he begins sleeping with one of his guardians, Talia (Rosario Dawson). Hagan discovers Jeremy's location and sends hitmen after him, who almost get Talia. Realizing it's him or Hagan, Jeremy heads back to Long Beach to settle the score.
Again, in general 'Fire With Fire' sounds like any other revenge flick you could think of. But director Barrett and writer Tom O'Connor make some interesting decisions that help the film stand out from the pack. Much of it centers around the way Jeremy goes about exacting his revenge. He screws up at almost every turn. Even the lackeys almost get the best of him. When he's torturing a henchman for information, he pukes because he's so disgusted with himself. It's a nice change of pace to a genre that is so often by the numbers.
The rest of the film is a mixed bag. Barrett's direction is assured although not inspired. He does a decent enough job maintaining interest and keeping the pacing going. One major misstep is in a shootout, where he decides to do shots from the point of view of the bullets. It's not quite as silly as it sounds, but it doesn't come off well at all (nor does it make sense that someone with a handgun would be able to match a sniper shot for shot).
Duhamel commits, but doesn't have the chops to sell Coleman's suffering (despite the inspired puking). Dawson and D'Onofrio fare better; both turning in solid performances that feel like they believe in the strength of the material. And, to their credit, O'Connor's script generally has good dialogue that's a cut above most direct to video releases. This is highlighted in a scene where Richard Schiff, playing Hagan's lawyer, gives an impassioned defense of our legal system. Unfortunately, O'Connor bungles it by then having Schiff's character admit that the only reason he's defending Hagan is because his whole family would be killed if he didn't.
The secondary cast also gives it the old college try. The aforementioned Schiff is enjoyably smarmy as Hagan's lawyer, and Julian McMahon has a lot of fun playing one of the hitmen. 50 Cent does a respectable job as a Crip, and Vinnie Jones hams it up as one of Hagan's thugs. Kevin Dunn is his usual awesome self. The only down note comes from Bruce Willis. In a performance that must have been shot in eight hours, Willis completely phones it in. Even his shouting feels lazy. Perhaps he was thinking about what he was going to spend his paycheck on.
While 'Fire With Fire' isn't going to light up the world of cinema, it's better than it has any right to be. Between O'Connor's script, which makes some interesting choices, Barrett's competent direction, and a cast that is mostly game to play, 'Fire With Fire' manages to offer a few modest pleasures, which is more than most direct to video releases can claim.
Lionsgate presents 'Fire With Fire' in an AVC-encoded, 1080p, 2.35:1 transfer. Shot with Red Epic digital cameras, right out of the gate we have a pleasing HD image. Fine detail is through the roof. You can count the stubbly hairs on Bruce Willis' five o'clock shadow, and even discern which ones are gray and which are black. The two different locales, Long Beach and Louisiana, each got their own color grading, with Long Beach going ice blue and Louisiana oppressively orange. Within these color schemes, color reproduction looks accurate, while realizing that the colors have been intentionally tweaked for a specific, if slightly overdone, effect. Fleshtones are also necessarily affected by this, with Duhamel sometimes looking a little like he's been downing carrot juice in Louisiana, but those moments are few and far between and again are intentional.
Blacks are often strong, shadow detail falls prey to black crush. This is especially problematic during nighttime scenes, where most of the image may disappear into a sea of black. Other than this, contrast looks good, especially during the convenience story robbery in the beginning, which features a more diverse color palette. The image is free from any kind of noise, artifacts, or posterization.
'Fire With Fire' pulls no punches with its DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. The first thing you will notice is the LFE, which is aggressive and powerful. One of the most active LFE tracks I've heard in a while, actually; it'll make your teeth rattle in your head. Dynamic range is wide, and the soundscape broad. Imaging is good. You can hear the soundtrack fill in the spaces, creating a nice stage for the film to play out on. Directionality is a little vague, although balance isn't a problem as dialogue is always loud, clear and crisp. A lot of work clearly went into the sound, as you can hear a variety of sounds and effects with astonishing clarity, including a memorable (although not necessarily enjoyable) moment of teeth scraping against concrete that might make your stomach flip.
'Fire With Fire' is not a great film, but for a direct to video feature, it's better than it should be. Director David Barrett shows a competence behind the camera that most similar projects lack, and Bruce Willis aside, his cast members do their best to help him out. The Blu-ray features generally strong video and audio, but a less than impressive set of special features. 'Fire With Fire' isn't a movie you'll feel the need to watch more than once, but once is more than most movies of this type deserve. Give it a rent.