Heading straight to the land of DTV in the US, the presence of Bruce Willis in a supporting role is undoubtedly the only reason why Fire With Fire was deemed worthy enough for a big-screen release over here. Make no mistake – this is future Channel 5 fodder, although a sub-standard episode of CSI offers more cinematic nourishment.
An unnecessarily convoluted plot sees a LA fire-fighter named Jeremy (Josh Duhamel) witnessing a racially-motivated murder by Vincent D’Onofrio’s Aryan Brotherhood leader. Assigned to the case is a grizzled police detective (Bruce Willis) who believes his partner was murdered by the gang, and encourages Jeremy to testify. (Supposedly) laying low under witness relocation in New Orleans, the hunky fireman embarks on a relationship with a US Marshal assigned to protect him (Rosario Dawson).
Before he knows it, near tragedy strikes (cue Duhamel’s sustained, slo-mo cry of “Nooooooooo!!!!” into an overhead camera) as Jeremy is almost on the receiving end of a hitman’s bullet. Realising that his life (and those close to him) are in peril, he feels it necessary to take the law into his own hands, and slips back into his neighbourhood (“I’m a ghost”) to ensure that D’Onofrio and crew never have the opportunity to mess with him again.
Co-produced by the ubiquitous 50 Cent (who crops up in an uninspired cameo), the rapper has managed to tempt Willis back into his creative arena once more, following a small-screen collaboration last year on a similarly-looking uninspired action romp called Setup. It’s obvious the once all-conquering A-listers of Hollywood must be feeling the financial pinch too, as this has to be the only feasible explanation as to why someone with Willis’ stature would appear in these types of utterly disposable and characterless B-pictures. It was probably a very substantial payment for what looks, at the very most, to be a couple of days’ worth of work. Still, Willis can’t even muster the required acting muscles to make his presence here worthwhile, and it’s a miserable and disheartening sight to see him on screen in this.
Of course, here’s not the only actor battling a moronic (and borderline racist) script. One scene sees Duhamel’s character striking up a seemingly arbitrary conversation with a couple of black guys to see if they can sort him out with some firepower. After an initially heated exchange, they take him to their leader (Fiddy) who just happens to have in his possession a huge arsenal of weaponry! Every cliché in the book is here, and stuntman-turned-director David Barrett is happy to play all those antiquated tropes of the genre, which have been mercilessly parodied numerous times before, as straight-faced as humanly possible.
Duhamel is completely at a loss without a battalion of huge, shape-shifting robots to flank him, and it’s a shame to see the talented Dawson given zero to do. D’Onofrio appears to be the only one who is trying to inject a little personality into the meagre material, and he’s genuinely repulsive as the villain, although he has the likes of Vinnie Jones (playing resolutely against type as a snarling, psychotic, cockney-accented villain) adding a unhelpful layer of cartoonish malevolence to hinder his efforts.
Fire With Fire shouldn’t even be approached under the misguided assumption that you’ll be greeted to an evening of dumb, mindless fun. That last part is conspicuously absent, and your hard-earned cash deserves to be spent on something which, at the very least, attempts to engage the viewer on some level.