Dead Fire (1996)


Canada/Czecheslovakia. 1996.


Director – Bill Lee, Screenplay – Christopher Hyde, Alan McEvoy & Nicholas Racz, Producer – Lloyd A. Simandl, Photography – Dave Pelletier, Music – Peter Allen, Visual Effects – Frame Ltd Prague & North American Pictures. Production Company – North American Pictures/Do or Die Productions


Colin Cunningham (Captain Cal Brody), Matt Frewer (Major Max Durbin), C. Thomas Howell (Amos Tucker), Monika Schnarre (Kendall Foster), Rachel Hayward (Colonel Alexa Stant), Lucie Zednickova (Celeste), Milan Gargula (Earl), Gerard Whelan (Mathers)


It is the year 2062 and the Earth has been devastated and is uninhabitable. In orbit aboard the space station USS Legacy, soldiers tend a consignment of people kept in cryonic suspension. When Captain Cal Brody disobeys orders to stop an out of control soldier, his superior Colonel Alexa Stant sentences him to guard the criminals who are kept frozen on the Earth’s surface. However, Stant is a traitor who frees the frozen tyrant Major Max Durbin and then aids Durbin and his men in taking over the Legacy. Brody is the only one capable of stopping Durbin as he embarks on a dangerous scheme devised by Brody’s girlfriend to harness the sun’s rays to clear the Earth’s surface.

Canada’s North American Pictures, who shoot all their films in Czecheslovakia, shaped up briefly during the late 1990s as a promising low-budget production company – they also made Empire of Ash (1988) and sequels, the first Project: Shadowchaser (1992), Time Runner (1993), Downdraft (1996), Escape Velocity (1998), Sleeping Dogs (1998) and Lethal Target (1999), as well as a number of erotic films. Dead Fire is an interesting effort, even if it never succeeds.

Dead Fire gives the impression of having been construed as a Die Hard in Space. Director Bill Lee contrives some reasonable action scenes – a hostage exchange where Colin Cunningham outwits Matt Frewer’s double-cross by playing the old shell game with a bomb; Cunningham’s dive into a pool kept at subzero temperatures in order to exchange the computer boards; Cunningham and Monika Schnarre escaping laser fire by flying their shuttle close to the space station. The special effects are reasonably handled for the most part with are some effective vistas of ships stretching away beyond the window and rows of cryo-bays (although there are some very visible matte lines during the lift dive sequence). One cannot help but think that if Dead Fire had been made on a A-budget with lavish effects and a pulse-pounding action director it may have emerged as a worthwhile effort.

Unfortunately, a reasonably effective action element tends to vie with a considerable degree of foolishness down at the script level. There is an amazingly silly sequence where Colin Cunningham manages to survive uninjured from a dive of several hundred feet down a lift shaft to land on the elevator cage – moreover, without the occupant even managing to hear him impacting on the roof. This sits alongside an even sillier climax where C. Thomas Howell’s hero turns out to be a pool whiz – the brother of the scientist they thought they were thawing out – who uses his trajectorial expertise to bounce laser beams off satellites, clear the Earth’s surface and then bounce the beam back to dispose of the despotic Matt Frewer by blowing up the space station. The script here fails to understand that there is a considerable difference between trajectories on a two-dimensional surface as in a game of pool (the way in which we see C. Thomas Howell calculating the shot) and a trajectory in three-dimensions. Moreover, the film does not realise that objects impacting in zero gravity transfer their momentum and do not bounce off surfaces the same way that they do on a pool table. Nor is it ever clear in the script what happened to devastate the Earth’s surface or even what crimes Durbin was imprisoned for. Plus the title is meaningless.

Furthermore, the film is beset with some bad performances. C. Thomas Howell in a blonde dye-job, gives an amazingly silly performance – luckily the film, despite top billing him, sidelines him to a supporting part rather than making him the hero. Matt Frewer gives another of the campily over-the-top performances he seems to reserve for the low-budget fare that he is being increasingly forced to take on these days. Monika Schnarre also gives a poor performance – she looks like a blonde model who has been cast for her looks and plays vapidly, at no point suggesting any of the intelligence of an unconventional scientist that her character is supposed to have.

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