WELCOME STARGAZERS! Gather ’round and behold, the next greatest review series at Man, I Love Films. For those of you who’ve come in search of the Friday Vault, alas it is no more. The Vault will be exclusive to Tuesdays, making way for Panning the Stream. What is that, you may ask?
I grew up in the age of video stores. Those tiny little hovels in the corner of the mall (strip or indoor) that featured not only videos, but some add-on business like tanning beds, a news/magazine stand, or a selection of pipe tobacco and cigars (no joke). I cut my cinematic teeth on these little gems before they were destroyed by the Hollywood Videos, Moovies and Blockbusters of the world.
These places didn’t deal in bulk rental copies of the latest release; we’d be lucky if there were three copies of Lethal Weapon to snag, and even then you had to get there before the Friday evening crowds flocked. Thanks to the limited availability, and being a box art junkie, straight-to-video releases classics like Rolling Vengeance made my weekend’s entertaining.
Now, those brick-and-mortar stores, both independent and chain, have all but crumbled, but straight-to-video is living strong on the internet. Just like when I used to walk the aisles, Panning the Stream is a chance to dip into the ever-flowing, ever-expanding volumes of obscure content spilling into Netflix, Amazon, and other online media outlets. And, if we’re lucky, the panning will uncover a gem that might otherwise have been lost due to its limited or non-existent theatrical run.
In other, briefer, words, Panning the Stream is my attempt to discover limited-release and direct-to-digital films that don’t suck serious ass. With that in mind, we turn to Fire with Fire which inspired this whole concept and stars to of my favorite actors Bruce ‘Bruised’ Willis and the sexy Rosario Dawson.
Long Beach firefighter Jeremy Coleman (Josh Duhamel) stops by his local convenience mart to pick up some snacks when David Hagan (Vincent D’Onofrio) and his thugs hold the place up. Hagan is muscling his Aryan crime syndicate into the Eastside Crips territory, and the store’s owner (Thom Barry) refuses to sell. Hagan murders the owner and his son, leaving Jeremy to his man Boyd (Vinnie Jones), but Jeremy escapes. Angered and wounded, Jeremy agrees to testify against Hagan who’s heretofore avoided incrimination. To keep him safe, Lt. Cella (Bruce Willis) contacts witness protection and Jeremy is relocated to New Orleans under the protection of Deputy US Marshall Talia Durham (Rosario Dawson). With only weeks before the trial, Hagan’s hit man (Julian McMahon) finds Jeremy and nearly kills Talia. Hagan’s continued threats bring Jeremy to the realization that the only way he and those he loves will ever be truly safe from the crime boss is if he returns to Long Beach and ensures Hagan never makes it to trial.
Released direct to DVD and BluRay a little over a year ago, Fire with Fire was produced by 50 Cent and his production company Cheetah Vision. An added perk of producing is 50 Cent has a brief appearance as the leader of the Eastside Crips. Quentin “Rampage” Jackson also has a small role in 50′s gang.
You know who else has a tiny role? Bruce Willis! I wasn’t expecting Willis to be the star, but I did expect more than the handful of scenes he had. As for those scenes, I love Bruce like family, but my man was phoning that shit in hard. Sure, he was playing a beaten and beleaguered cop who’d lost his partner to Hagan’s viciousness, but audiences are provided that insight strictly through detached exposition.
Since we’re climbing up the screentime ladder, Rosario Dawson and Vicent D’Onofrio reside nearest the supporting tier. D’Onofrio’s Hagan is the kind of bastard that only the baddest of mother fuckers should attempt to harass, let alone kill. Like most his roles, D’Onofrio dives in, rolls around, and breathes dirty, rotten life into the character of Hagan. His resourcefulness and his casually threatening manner make Hagan scary enough to understand why no one testifies against him. It also makes you wonder why someone like Jeremy would challenge him. Enter Talia. As the concerned Marshall in love with her charge, Dawson gives a solid performance. She makes Talia the kind of woman that would make a man like Jeremy go to such extreme measures to keep her safe.
I like Duhamel’s Jeremy overall. He’s trying to do the right thing, but gets pushed into doing wrong for his sanity and the safety of his loved ones. He struggles with the nastiness he’s doing, but Hagan’s mean streak is wide enough to justify his actions. Jeremy gets his ass beat as much as he dishes out the beatings, overcoming solely by the might of his self-appointed righteousness. It’s a little far-fetched to believe that Hagan’s operations are so woefully undermanned, but director David Barrett rewards viewers’ forgiveness of the plot’s weaknesses by offering up some brutal violence.
The questionable fortutitude of Hagan’s crew aside, Fire with Fire suffers from a hefty amount of nonsensical plot points and leaves audiences with a lot of unresolved issues. The ending offers the appearance of everything being laid to rest, but even a cursory afterthought is enough to frustrate the observant. Still, Fire with Fire is a must for D’Onofrio fans or for those who can’t get enough of films about vigilante justice, but others should be careful to not be burned by this flick.