Reel Action: Fire with Fire, starring Bruce Willis and Josh Duhamel

Rating: 2 out of 4

Tagline: Revenge has its own set of rules

Directed by: David Barrett
Starring: Josh Duhamel, Bruce Willis, Rosario Dawson, Julian McMahan and Vincent D'Onofrio

THE PLAN: A blue-collar firefighter who has witnessed a murder must fend for his life after a psychotic drug kingpin comes after him.

THE KILL: FIRE WITH FIRE is a standard straight-to-DVD thriller without much new on its mind, destined to be quickly forgotten. However, it has the unusual benefit of sporting a rather impressive cast: Bruce Willis, Rosario Dawson, Josh Duhamel, Julian McMahan, Kevin Dunn, 50 Cent and Vincent D'Onofrio all show up, and in substantial roles too, making this otherwise bland affair strangely compelling, if never truly interesting.

Flick focuses on firefighter Jeremy Coleman (Duhamel), a normal guy who likes going to work, hanging with his friends, bedding the occasional hottie, the simple life. But everything changes for him one fateful night, as he enters the wrong convenience store at the wrong time, witnessing a brutal murder perpetrated by David Hagen (D'Onofrio), a violent drug dealer and white supremacist looking to secure the convenience store as a distribution center. (How he hopes to achieve that by blatantly killing the owner and his son is a mystery.) Coleman gets away (with a bullet in him) and finds himself in police custody, working with a tough cop (Willis) to finger Hagen and put him behind bars for good. But Coleman will have to go into witness protection first, changing his identity and his life.

50 Cent has just heard Josh Duhamel rap for the first time

Naturally, that can't last long. About eight months later, Coleman is tracked down by a hired assassin (McMahan) working for Hagen, and his life and the life of the U.S. Marshall who he's romantically involved with (Dawson) is thrown into complete jeopardy. Soon, Coleman's love is seriously wounded, which brings him to the breaking point. You know what they say about the man who has nothing left to lose. Don't f*ck with him, because he'll team up with the local Crips (led by 50 Cent) and come after your racist ass.

FIRE WITH FIRE has a fairly polished look to go along with its decent cast. The film was produced by Emmet/Furla, a production company that seems to have a large piggy bank which they use to acquire A-listers for these Z-grade crime thrillers, often co-produced by 50 Cent. (They have FREELANCERS, starring 50, Robert De Niro and Forest Whitaker out right now as well, but also movies with Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington in the works.) Their movies are almost no different from a litany of similar cops-and-robbers dramas we've seen before, hardly straying from reliable formulas. Here they're working with the tried and true "everyday man takes on the crime syndicate" subgenre; following a blueprint that has been used since the 70s (at least), you won't find anything surprising in FIRE WITH FIRE. It's clear that the producers' tactic in the business is to balance out their tired screenplays with recognizable faces, then package the film for urban audiences. They must be doing something right!

Bruce found paying his taxes much easier thanks to his FIRE WITH FIRE money

As mentioned before, it's oddly startling about seeing this group of actors participating in a film of such (sorry to be harsh, fellas) low caliber. I know actors are fond of getting the easy paycheck as much as the next guy, and even Bruce Willis has shown up in one of these before (last year's SETUP, also produced by Emmet/Furla/50 Cent) but even that was a bit role, while his turn in FIRE is actually quite big. He's not given much to do - he's often sitting at a desk or walking around a police station - and he appears pretty well past bored the entire time. When watching Willis, and indeed, most of the cast, I often found myself wondering just how much they were paid to be in this thing - do they need the dough that much?

Duhamel does what he can with his uninteresting character; the actor, best known for his TRANSFORMERS stints and being married to Fergie, is perhaps the only castmember who doesn't seem to be looking down at his material, giving it an admirable shot. Everyone else, from Rosario to even 50 Cent himself, is going through the motions, although perhaps special mention should be made for D'Onofrio, who can always be counted on to ham it up. Here he's sinking his teeth into a truly despicable character, giving enough effort to make us want to see him inevitably pay for his villainy.

Director David Barrett is competent at his job, staging scenes adequately if unremarkably. There's just enough action to break up the monotony of watching the players recite screenwriter Tom O'Connor's cliched dialogue, and Barrett is no amateur, keeping with the film's professional look and feel. But that's all FIRE WITH FIRE has going for it: it looks good doing what it does, but what it is doing is nothing we haven't seen before.

TOP ACTION: The finale sees Coleman setting a fiery trap for his antagonists. He was a fireman, you see, and now he's fighting fire with fire!!!

TOP DEATH:A bad guy gets hit in the chest with an axe, shot multiple times, set on fire and blown through a window. Dude was a tough mutha!

TOP DIALOGUE: Coleman actually says to Hagen at one point: "To hell with witness protection, you're going to need protection from me!"

HOMOEROTIC MOMENT Nothing to speak of.

FEMALE EXPLOITATION: Rosario Dawson is just hot - we get to see her in her undies, but it's all too briefly. Pause-worthy, though.

DRINKING GAME: Drink everytime Bruce Willis looks as if he'd rather not be there. You'll die of alcohol poisoning by his third scene.

TRIVIA: Duhamel's character vomits all over the place at least twice in this movie. Dunno, just thought that was worth mentioning.

Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha has a supporting role, quite randomly.




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