By Chaz Lipp
(Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Fire with Fire (2012) on Blogcritics.)
Veteran television director David Barrett makes his feature film debut with Fire with Fire. It’s the latest production from Cheetah Vision, the company founded by Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson. Say what you will about the quality of the films he produces, Jackson seems to be doing something right from a commercial standpoint. Cheetah Vision films are generally action thrillers (the illness-themed drama All Things Fall Apart being a notable exception) that include at least one big name star in a supporting role. Fire with Fire features none other than Bruce Willis, an unlikely Cheetah Vision semi-regular (he co-starred with Jackson in 2011’s Setup). The film delivers just enough excitement (plus supporting turns by Vincent D’Onofrio and Rosario Dawson) to qualify as an acceptable time-passer.
Josh Duhamel (William Lennox in all three Transformers films) stars as California-based firefighter Jeremy Coleman. Early on, Jeremy witnesses a double homicide in a convenience store and quickly becomes the target of the perpetrator, a white supremacist crime figure named Hagan (Vincent D’Onofrio). Despite having been arrested after Jeremy identifies him in a lineup, the police realize Hagan is planning to come after the fireman. They usher Jeremy into the witness protection program, relocating him to New Orleans. It’s there that Jeremy begins a torrid relationship with the Federal Marshall in charge of him, Talia (Rosario Dawson).
Turns out Hagan has a pretty long arm. Out of jail pending his trial, thanks to his dirt-bag lawyer (Richard Schiff), Hagan attempts to have Talia murdered just to mess with Jeremy. Thanks to some firearm training courtesy of his new girlfriend, Jeremy manages to take out the hitman. Unfortunately, Talia is shot and seriously injured. The Feds whisk her off to another location, outraged with her and Jeremy for becoming romantically entangled. Even though they hadn’t been dating very long, Jeremy abandons the witness protection program to head back to California to take down Hagan and his henchmen.
Where does Willis fit into this scenario? He plays Mike Cella, a Long Beach cop who’s fed up with Hagan’s criminal activity. He becomes involved in the case to an unusually close degree, investing considerable personal interest in Jeremy’s well-being. Basically Willis’ cop, even though he turns up fairly regularly throughout the film, maintains a mostly administrative role. No heavy lifting involved. Willis is here to catch the eye of potential DVD/Blu-ray renters and buyers. It’s D’Onofrio who steals the show as the only cast member who seems to have having any fun. He chews the scenery pretty thoroughly as Hagan, milking his Southern accent and general air of malevolence for all it’s worth. 50 Cent turns up in what amounts to a cameo as a gun dealer.
Lionsgate’s 1080p Blu-ray transfer is generally impressive. The film was shot digitally and the resulting transfer is perfectly clean and very sharp. The only minor issue I had with it was a little too much loss of detail during dimly lit or nighttime scenes. Obviously it’s always going to be harder to see during such scenes, but detail tends to be significantly swallowed up by shadows. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack is rock solid. Not only does it deliver resonant, centered dialogue, it makes effective use of all channels. The LFE channel isn’t heavily engaged, but it thumps nicely when needed (during shootouts and explosions). Rear speakers are almost constantly active, either with music or effects (or both).
There’s a pretty substantial roster of special features included. Two commentary tracks provide more information than anyone really needs to know about Fire with Fire. There’s one with director David Barrett and cinematographer Christopher Probst. The other features actors Vincent D’Onofrio, along with bit players Eric Winter and James Lesure. A 10-minute promo featurette doesn’t add up to much, but the extended cast and crew interviews are far meatier. There’s nearly two hours of material here, with producers Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Randall Emmett, director Barrett, and others. I’m not sure why anyone would want to sit through all these, to be honest, but they’re available.
Fire with Fire is a relatively competent piece of formulaic action fluff. If you’re a true Bruce Willis junkie, I suppose it’s a must-see (simply because he’s in it, not because he does anything particularly interesting). There are far worse direct-to-video films out there (50 Cent has produced some of them), but with so many better choices overall it’s hard to justify spending 97 minutes with this.