Stunt coordinator turned director David Barrett’s debut feature Fire with Fire (2012) sees Josh Duhamel star as orphaned firefighter Jeremy Coleman and Bruce Willis ring one in as protective police officer Mike Cella. What promises to be a ‘hot’ revenge thriller begins when Coleman finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Held hostage by expat hard-nut Boyd (Vinnie Jones), Coleman is brutally exposed to the murder of a convenience store owner and his teenage son. After escaping, Coleman makes a run for it leaving gang leader David Hagan (Vincent D’Onofrio) and his dangerous accomplices hot on his heels.
When the killer makes bail, Cella (Willis) advises Coleman to enrol in the witness protection programme. He quickly leaves town, so that he can testify against the man who’s been a longtime target of the authorities. Whilst hiding out in New Orleans, the witness falls in love with agent Talia Durham (Rosario Dawson) and embarks on a secret affair that puts both of their lives in jeopardy. Following a failed attempt on their lives, the pair are forced apart by the authorities and the threat on his lover enrages Coleman, leading him to enlist the help of rival gang leader Lamar (rapper Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson). Coleman vows to get his own back on the violent criminals, ultimately leading him to take the law into his own hands.
Fire with Fire begins with a seemingly exciting premise – Backdraft (1991) meets Law Abiding Citizen (2009) – but it soon transpires that the film was created solely on this very loose concept as opposed to a sharply-constructed script. Barrett takes for granted, during the convenience store scene, that the viewer’s allegiance will remain with the white hostage as the shopkeeper and his son lose their lives in a gratuitous manor. What emerges from this one scene is the realisation that Barrett’s debut brings nothing new to a tired and predictable genre. The screenplay is shallow and only scratches the surface of the film’s potential. What’s more, characters trundle through scenes delivering stale dialogue as opposed to practising their craft.
Derivative action scenes are interspersed with violently non-titillating love scenes, designed as thriller-filler. So much so that you can almost feel the director looking at his watch. There’s little chemistry between Duhamel and Dawson which makes it very hard for the audience to relate to the characters or care about their motives. Willis is barely used to his advantage in a role that can only be described as phoned in whilst other high profile supporting cast members appear in undeveloped and futile cameos. Formulaic and trite, Fire with Fire is a costly failure, a red-hot mess that will leave you feeling nothing but cold.