Following the latest dog-eared Die Hard instalment that severed its hard nosed roots for a more family-friendly affair, Bruce Willis returns (in a supporting role) to a more dirty, downtrodden cop picture that, despite being grounded in the urban crime sub-genre, feels more like a sequel to the latest Die Hard than the latest Die Hard did to Die Hard.
Josh Duhamel stars as Jeremy Colton, a calendar cad fireman who witnesses a convenience store murder by a gang leader, played with seething elation by Vincent D’Onofrio. After discovering the flaws of the witness protection programme the hard way, Colton seeks out to hunt down and kill the gang head to protect himself and the people he loves. With help from craggy out veteran cop Mike Cella (Willis), Colton batters his way through the gangland under-dogs, including Vinnie Jones as a generic tattooed bastard, while at the same time falling in love with Rosario Dawson’s tenacious FBI agent just to make things more complicated.
One of Fire With Fire’s many problems is that it jungles too many elements and suffers from a lack of identity, as a result losing focus on the core of the story. Clumsily weaving in aspects of other genres including romance, FBI thriller, cop drama and action picture, it feels far too patchy a melding to be convincing as any of the types of film it emulates; with a screenplay that skims the surface of several ideas without exploring any of them in depth or with enough conviction to develop a cohesive story.
At its best Fire With Fire succeeds in its telling of an innocent man forced into having to infiltrate the criminal underworld for his own survival, struggling with fear and having to commit acts of violence that he would have never contemplated in everyday life. The portrayal of this inner and physical conflict in the protagonist is engaging and, even in flashes, quite harrowing, which makes the overriding fact that the film fails as a whole all the more disappointing.
In one scene Colton vomits while interrogating a henchman by hammering his bound hands into a work shop table. It would have made for a terrific character study had Fire With Fire focused on elements like this but thee teasing snippets of brilliance are far too fleeting and feel like segments from a different movie entirely when compared with the other milieu of traits and clichéd generics on display.
The tepid romance subplot with hackneyed love scenes are unconvincing and cringe-worthy due to a lack of chemistry between Colton and his FBI agent love interest, with flat-pack dialogue carved from pulp romance novel that is often laughable and even more unconvincing cushioned between the clunks of juggernaut drama. These often make the whole ordeal half bearable but are few and far between.
Willis sleep walks through a role he’s done a thousand times but brings a little bit more welcome weariness to the proceedings which, in a supporting turn, makes us more appreciative of his presence. There are occasional flashes of brilliance: D’Onofrio as a sadistic, slimy yet understated crime boss with the barking, kill hungry Vinnie Jones doing his thing are an entertaining double act and Fire With Fire does move at a reasonable pace, but it is far too unfocused and riddled unconvincing performances to be truly worthwhile.
Fire With Fire is released in cinemas on 8th March