The first “Firestarter” (1984) starred a not-yet-10-year-old Drew Barrymore as a girl who can start fires — with her mind, which makes all the difference. It was based on a Stephen King novel that wedded “Carrie”-redolent telekinesis to the kind of paranoia of “Three Days of the Condor.” The little girl’s power, and the powers of her parents, were the results of shadowy government agency experiments.
That’s true here, too, in a remake directed by Keith Thomas from a script by Scott Teems. But the paranoia theme, which has the girl, Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), and her family living off the grid at the movie’s outset, is quickly shrugged off. This movie brushes aside a lot of things — the most shocking thing about it is how soggily noncommittal it is.
Zac Efron pays Andy, Charlie’s father, and he’s got powers, too — with a twitch of the neck, he can cloud people’s minds. Only this action pains him and makes his eyes bleed like Ray Milland at the end of “X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes.” Charlie has inherited his power (without the bleeding).
You would think this would add some punch to the proceedings, but no. The final face-off between Charlie and a supercilious military villain (Gloria Reuben) is startlingly anticlimactic, and the subsequent when-children-kill coda is just plain limp. This is also one of those movies where you can’t quite tell if the special effects are janky on purpose.
The best thing in this movie is the tense electronic score, concocted by Daniel Davies, Cody Carpenter and his father, John Carpenter. Yes, that John Carpenter — one of the great American directors, and one who makes genre films almost exclusively. As the old magazine puzzles used to ask, what’s wrong with this picture?
Rated R for fire, cursing. Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes. In theaters and on Peacock.