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you always have to be careful with the first official studio release out of the gate each year .
they're obviously films for which the studios have no great hopes ( having missed both the deadline for academy award eligibility and the big box-office holiday season ) .
combine that with howie long's first starring action role , and you've got a doozy of a movie that , while not as bad as it could have been , isn't a very good film .
howie stars as an ace smokejumper ( a firefighter who parachutes into forest fires unreachable from the ground ) .
in the slightly contrived opening scenes , we witness his heroism in action , as he , and his mentor ( played by scott glenn ) attempt to rescue a small girl and her dog from an oncoming forest fire .
william forsythe plays the bad guy , a mass murderer who has several million dollars tucked away to help fund his jailbreak .
he ( and five convict cohorts ) manages to get selected for firefighting duty when a woodland blaze just happens to ignite nearby .
his escape plan bets a lot on the laxity of the guards , but ( since there must be a movie ) luck is with him .
soon the now-escaped convicts are masquerading as canadian firefighters .
why canadian ?
who knows , eh ?
along the way they pick up a pretty birdwatcher ( suzy amis ) to be their hostage .
enter howie long .
he's called in to help fight the blaze , and when he spots the group of " ground pounders " , apparently lost , he parachutes in to help .
when he discovers their true identity , he is the only thing standing between them and escape , and the only hope of help for the hostage .
long's acting talents are above those of , say , steven seagal , but not by much .
although his delivery is mostly flat and wooden , he's a likeable hero , and there are some hints here and there that he may get better .
the script doesn't help him out any , however .
all too often , it veers into the realm of the unintentionally funny .
the dialogue is strictly b-movie material , and the plotting relies too heavily on coincidences to be believable .
long's co-stars are a mixed bag .
at least they're all comfortable in their respective roles .
forsythe has the scenery-chewing villain down cold , down cold , and scott glenn is always enjoyable to watch , even when he doesn't seem to be stretching his talents ( as is definitely the case here ) .
suzy amis plays peril pretty well , but isn't given much more to do .
some of the nature and wildfire shots are interesting , but many are rather bland .
you'd think that the director , dean semler , a former cinematographer , would at least produce a film with interesting visuals .
that's not the case .
there's a lack of originality to nearly all the sequences . . . we've
seen this stuff before .
it's not the most auspicious start to 1998 , but it could have been worse ( just think back to 1996's debut , bio-dome ) .
however , after a month of oscar-caliber pictures , a movie like firestorm at least gives you some perspective on how good those movies really were .
in fact , there's a good chance that some of them are still playing near you . . .
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