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Film / Firestorm (1998)

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Firestorm is a 1998 action thriller film directed by Dean Semler, and starring Howie Long, Scott Glenn, William Forsythe and Suzy Amis.

Firefighter Jesse Graves has to save ornithologist Jennifer and other people caught in a forest fire, which was set up by the lawyer of convicted killer Randall Shaye, who escaped from the prison with several of his inmates posing as firefighters to recover thirty-seven million dollars in stashed loot.

Not to be confused with the 2013 Hong Kong film.

Firestorm contains example of:

  • Action Girl: Jennifer manages to hold her own for most of the movie, and proves to have a host of skills that are useful when fleeing from a gang of killers in the midst of a forest fire.
  • The Blade Always Lands Pointy End In: Jesse throws his pulaski at Shaye and it buries itself blade first in his chest.
  • Blood Is Squicker in Water: Davis cuts himself shaving and a drop of blood falls into the running water in the sink. A few moments later, Shaye stabs him in the neck with a Sinister Shiv, and the camera cuts to stream of blood running down the sink, mixing with the water, and washing down the plughole.
  • Brick Joke: One of the first gags of the film is Jesse dressing down Sherman, a rookie firefighter of his unit, for forgetting to secure his ax, which Jesse warns will make it fall off once it's jostled by the shock of Sherman's chute opening and maybe hit some poor bastard on the ground. The last gag of the film is Jesse's unit parachute dropping to his location once everything is said and done... and Sherman's ax, sure enough, falls off when he deploys his chute because he didn't learnt his lesson, with the damned thing falling right between Jesse's feet and missing his toes and head by mere inches.
  • Broken Pedestal: Jesse discovers that his mentor Wynt started the forest fire in order for a land developer to build a training school for fire fighters.
  • Career-Ending Injury: Wynt has his legs badly broken when a trailer flips on him during a Heroic Fire Rescue. The breaks mean he can no longer parachute jump, which forces him to retire as a smokejumper.
  • Caught in a Snare: Jennifer lures Packer into standing in a snare, which is then triggered by Jesse jumping from a tree and hauling on the rope.
  • The Cavalry Arrives Late: At the end of the film, the rest of the smokejumpers parachute drop into Jesse's location: after Shaye has been killed and the fire has been extinguished by a combination of the firestorm sucking out all the oxygen and the subsequent rain.
  • Chekhov's Gag: An early joke about Cowboy rigging Sherman's safety line too long pays off much later when Jesse pulls the same trick on Packer after catching him in a snare.
  • Chainsaw Good: Jesse dissuades pursuit by throwing a running chainsaw through the windscreen of the villains' truck.
  • Cover Identity Anomaly: Jesse becomes suspicious that the firefighters he encounters are not what they seem because they climbed to a ridgeline during a forest fire. Any firefighter knows that fire moves faster going uphill, and going up a hill in a fire is a good way to get trapped.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Shaye murders his cellmate, then dyes his hair black and fakes a distinctive tattoo on his neck so he can take his place on the convict fire crew being sent out to fight the blaze.
  • "Die Hard" on an X: Die Hard in a forest fire.
  • Doctor, Doctor, Doctor: There is a scene where Wynt (the retired chief) and Jesse (the current chief) keep calling each other 'Chief'. In Jesse's case, it is out of respect (and habit) while Wynt is driving home the point that Jesse in now the one in charge.
  • Dye or Die: Shaye dyes his distinctive pale hair black as part of his Dead Person Impersonation so he can join the prison fire crew and escape.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Leaving aside the prologue, the action of the film plays out over the course of a day.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Randall Alexander Shaye spends time becoming quite chummy with each of his coconspirators, before killing each one without a moment's hesitation as soon as the opportunity presents itself.
  • Firefighter Arsonist: The arsonist who starts the forest fire is ultimately revealed to be Jesse's former mentor: retired smokejumper Wynt Perkins. He thought he was being paid to start the fire in order for a land developer to build a training school for fire fighters, but it was actually cover for a prison break.
  • Gardening-Variety Weapon: Karge uses a billhook in an attempt to kill Jesse at the trading post.
  • The Great Fire: A convoluted prison escape scheme sets off a raging wildfire in Wyoming. Firefighter Jesse Graves rides in to save civilians caught in the blaze, but ends up getting caught up in a massive conspiracy involving a bloodthirsty gang of escaped felons and a $37 million stash of hidden loot in what could accurately be called "Die Hard in a forest fire."
  • Hard-to-Light Fire: After plunging into the river, Jesse tries to light a signal fire by striking rocks together. While he generates sparks, he cannot get the fire to light. He then looks over at Jennifer, who already has her fire going. She then smugly holds up a lighter.
  • Heroic Fire Rescue: The film opens with Jesse and his mentor Wynt rescuing trapped civilians in a forest fire when a woman begs them to rescue her daughter from a burning cabin. They locate the girl, but Wynt is injured by a travel trailer sent flying by an explosion. Jesse manages to free Wynt and rescue both him and the girl from a flashover.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Big Bad Randall Alexander Shaye is ultimately killed by the very forest fire he started in order to cover his prison break.
  • Improvised Lockpick: When the convicts are locked in the bus in the path of the fire, one of them attempts to pick the lock on the door with a pen supplied by one of the guards.
  • It Works Better with Bullets: While in the truck with Packer and Loomis, Jennifer manages to get hold of one of the guns. She uses it hold them at bay until Packer holds up the magazine, suggesting she might want this.
  • Letterbox Arson: When Jesse and Karge are fighting inside the trading post, Shaye bars the doors and soaks the outside in gasoline. He smashes a small window, passes the fuel hose inside and tosses in a flare in an attempt to dispose of both of them.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Shaye murders Loomis by pushing him off a cliff in an attempt to make it look like an accident.
  • Mugged for Disguise: Shaye and his followers steal uniforms from the firefighters they capture: including resident Butt-Monkey Sherman, leaving him in his underwear (or naked. He is only seen from the waist up).
  • No Honor Among Thieves: Shaye has no intention of sharing the $37 million in hidden loot with the convicts who help him escape. Instead he murders each one once they stop being of use to him. It is later revealed that during the Train Job that netted him the $37 million in the first place, he collapsed a tunnel on top of the train: killing not only the guards and train crew, but also all of his gang.
  • Not Quite Dead: Jesse throws his axe into the murderous Shaye's chest, knocking him off the boat into the lake. Jesse flips the boat so he and Jennifer can use it as an airpocket to survive the coming firestorm. Suddenly, gunshots start coming from underneath them and a couple of bullets make a hole in the boat. Shaye has survived his injury, and rises from the depths looking to kill Jesse and Jennifer.
  • Parachute in a Tree: When Jesse jumps out of Andy's chopper to rescue Jennifer and the (fake) firefighters, his chute gets caught up between two trees. He has to cut it loose in order to drop to the ground.
  • Ramp-rovisation: Jesse uses the collapsed roof of the trading post as a ramp to jump a trail bike out of the burning building.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Wynt attempts to make up for his part in Shaye's escape by coming to Jesse's aid, and confronting Shaye on his own. This results him being fatally shot by Shaye.
  • Revealing Reflection: When Karge is sneaking up on Jesse in the trading post, Jesse looks up in time to see Karge reflected in the shiny bell of the old-fashioned telephone he is using. He ducks in time to save his life, but Karge's swing destroys the phone.
  • Right Man in the Wrong Place: Firefighter Jesse Graves is just doing his job and attempting to rescue a civilian trapped in the path of an oncoming forest fire. He wasn't planning on having to fight a bloodthirsty gang of escaped convicts, or uncover a massive conspiracy, but that's what he does.
  • Sadistic Choice: In the prologue, a crew of smokejumpers are trapped by a forest fire while attempting to evacuate a group of tourists. The main group are trapped on the road, while Jesse and Wynt are cut off from the others at a cabin where they had gone to rescue a young girl. Monica radios for air support and asks for a double hit: one on the cabin and one on the road. However, the water bomber only has a quarter load left: enough to hit one target, but not both. After a few agonizing seconds, Monica orders the bomber to dump its load on the larger group: the one on the road. After being doused, Monica looks into the smoke and realizes she made the right call, as Jesse emerges carrying the wounded Wynt and the girl.
  • Safety Gear Is Cowardly: While the rest of smokejumpers wear regulation hardhats, crew chief Jesse Graves goes into dangerous situations wearing nothing but a baseball cap: an action that would get him severely reprimanded, if not fired, in Real Life. (From a cinematic viewpoint, it makes it easier to distinguish Long's character in a group of otherwise identically dressed characters.)
  • Sherlock Can Read: After being rescued by Jesse, Jennifer pauses to check the bird eggs she was protecting. Jesse looks over her shoulder at the eggs, and then reels off the scientific name of the species. Jennifer is impressed by his ornithological knowledge. Until Jesse holds up the lid of the tin, which she had put to one side when she opened the tin, which has the name written on it.
  • Shovel Strike: Shaye's fellow escapees use shovels to knock out the guards when they escape from the fire crew.
  • Significant Haircut: Shaye cuts of his back length hair before undergoing his Dye or Die transformation to take Davis' place.
  • Sinister Shiv: Shaye uses a shiv, made from a razor blade melted into a toothbrush handle, to give himself a Significant Haircut, and then to murder Davis and take his place.
  • Talkative Loon: Packer, the serial rapist, is a motormouth. He infuriates Shaye to point where he asks Packer if he ever shuts up.
  • There Will Be Toilet Paper: Davis is shaving and cuts himself and sticks a piece of toilet paper on it. This is the last thing he does before Shaye sticks him with a Sinister Shiv.
  • Wanted a Son Instead: Jennifer explains that her father was third generation career marine who wanted a son to carry on the family tradition. Instead, he got three daughters. As a result, their summers were like boot camps as they received training in military and survival skills.
  • Worthless Treasure Twist: Shaye discovers that the $37 million he broke out of prison to recover has been burned up in the fire that was started to cover his breakout.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Twice Shaye backhands Jennifer across the face, hitting her hard enough to knock her to the ground.
  • Wrestler in All of Us: Karge is a former professional wrestler. After losing his weapon while fighting Jesse at the trading post, he reverts to wrestling moves in an attempt to finish him off; even providing his own commentary.
  • You Have Out Lived Your Usefulness: Randall Alexander Shaye systematically kills each of the convicts who helped him escape once they've stopped being useful/become a liability.