The home video market has provided a safe haven for falling stars, with former headliners like Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, Val Kilmer, and Cuba Gooding Jr. scoring consistent work on cheap action movies. It's not clear if Fire With Fire originated as a direct-to-video project, but it improves on that approach by boasting an above-the-title cast who are still making major movies, and downplaying a number of other names (D'Onofrio, Jones, 50 Cent, Julian McMahon, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson) that have become more familiar on the small screen. The film also tosses in a few character actors for good measure (Kevin Dunn, Richard Schiff, Arie Verveen). Most of these supporting cast members have small parts, giving the movie the feel of a big-budget ensemble picture rather than a penny-pinching production.
It helps also that these performances are good. So many direct-to-video features are let down by two sleepy C-list stars and a laundry list of underwhelming local talent. It's a small thing, but it really makes all the difference in a world to have a professional like Kevin Dunn or Julian McMahon handling exposition or a bit part. Some might be concerned that Willis only appears in five to ten minutes of this thing, but it's a fairly significant part, and although it's not really a role that requires much grandstanding, he puts the effort in when the script asks for it, and Duhamel is a durable action lead who has strong chemistry with Dawson. The MVP of the film, though, is D'Onofrio, who chews the scenery with a vicious glee that makes Hagan into an impressively threatening villain.
Director David Barratt has a background in stunts and second unit action direction, and he shoots clean, exciting action. The scope of these sequences is a little limited, but the sequences fit within the story. In particular, Barratt makes good use of Jeremy's firefighter background for the finale, set in a burning building (which mixes on-set flame with computer-generated flame for a much more satisfying result than all-CG fire). Style-wise, he doesn't assert himself too much; one shootout scene uses unnecessary whip-pans, but that's about it.
At the same time, Fire With Fire might still be a little less than the sum of its parts. DTV flicks are more about demographics than creativity, and when you're aiming squarely for a certain audience, you give them what you know they want. There aren't any twists or turns in the story here that are going to blow viewers' socks off, and the film's ending is a little abrupt (I suspect some serious editing was done in the last twenty minutes, eliminating more of 50 Cent's role). The film amounts to a strong rental feature: it delivers the goods with skill that outpaces its competition, but anyone who Redboxes it isn't going to get more than advertised.
The Video and Audio
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is also right on the money. In the movie's heightened gun battles, bullets are thunderously loud, whipping and zinging toward their targets. Music, which has a brooding quality, is nicely rendered and fills the soundscape. Even the sound of teeth scraping on concrete -- a terrible sound if I've ever heard one -- is rendered with wince-inducing clarity. English and French subtitles, and English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included.
"Behind the Scenes: Fire With Fire" (9:20) is a pretty standard making-of featurette, offering a mix of footage from the film, B-roll, and on-set interviews. The most interesting aspect of the featurette is, as mentioned above, the strong suggestion that 50 Cent originally had a bigger part, although there are no deleted scenes on the disc to verify. This is accompanied by additional interviews with director David Barratt (21:43), Josh Duhamel (22:21), 50 Cent (20:30), Eric Winter (5:57), James Lesure (5:15), Vinnie Jones (5:03), Quinton "Rampage" Jackson (7:24), Nnamdi Asomugha (11:38), and producer Randall Emmett (14:17). Frankly, on-set interviews are never particularly great -- the information you get out of the finished press kits is always so surface-level, but when you see the raw footage it often becomes clear that there's only so much to work with, because they're all still in the middle of making the movie, grabbed between takes. I liked Fire With Fire, but I have no need to watch almost two hours of interviews for a ninety-minute film. For the interested, they're included, but I only sampled a little of each clip, and found them to be in keeping with my opinion of on-set interviews.
Trailers for Safe, Freelancers, Haywire, and a promo for Epix play before the main menu. An original trailer for Fire With Fire is also included.