Sunday, November 13, 2016

Ablaze

Phoenician Entertainment and director Jim Wynorski (CHOPPING MALL) attempt an Irwin Allen-style disaster flick that is just unintentionally hilarious enough to be entertaining. A large cast of familiar faces and the amusement of spotting stock footage from other movies, which Wynorski uses in lieu of filming his own action scenes, provide much of the fun in ABLAZE.

John Bradley, who also played a fireman in Fox’s shortlived L.A. FIREFIGHTERS series, is Jack Thomas, a firefighter who gets laid up in the hospital after rescuing a young boy from a burning house. After an explosion at the nearby oil refinery owned by oily Wendell Mays (Tom Arnold!) plunges the city into flames, the hospital, also owned by Mays and anxious to keep patients with inadequate health plans from checking in, much to the consternation of compassionate doctor Jennifer Lewis (Amanda Pays), is overrun with burn victims.

Meanwhile, Jack’s estranged brother Andy (Larry Poindexter) also becomes a patient—a terminal one—when he’s injured while investigating unsafe conditions at the Mays refinery and in possession of evidence that will prove wrongdoing by Mays and the mayor. The conflagration eventually grows so massive that an impending firestorm causes the hospital’s evacuation, which is exacerbated by a pregnant woman giving birth and the firetrucks’ hoses not being long enough to reach the hospital doors (!), inducing the hospital’s staff and patients to run a gauntlet to safety.

Steve Latshaw’s screenplay is even more schizophrenic than I’ve described, frequently introducing gratuitous characters whose only value is to die on camera or match stock footage from other fire flicks. Second-billed Ice-T pops up during the precredits sequence for a car chase swiped from STRIKING DISTANCE that has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. Michael Dudikoff (AMERICAN NINJA), in an uncharacteristic supporting role, is solid as Bradley’s second-in-command. TV vets Cathy Lee Crosby (THAT’S INCREDIBLE), Pat Harrington (ONE DAY AT A TIME), and Mary Jo Catlett (DIFF’RENT STROKES) are welcome sights in the hospital scenes, while a puffy Edward Albert (BUTTERFLIES ARE FREE) huffs on cue as the supercilious mayor. Aside from the STRIKING DISTANCE car chase, most of the stock footage is clearly from the 1979 Canadian feature CITY ON FIRE.

As usual in the Wynorskiverse, logic and common sense play second fiddle to wrapping on time and budget. The concept of the firemen’s hoses not being able to reach the hospital is screwy enough, but when you see the survivors running away from the building, which is said to be at the end of a cul-de-sac, the street looks like Brooklyn circa 1956 and not the urban backlot seen in the CITY ON FIRE footage. And I’m not sure what kind of law enforcement strategy sends a fireman and a lone detective on a stakeout to capture an arsonist in broad daylight. Ah, what’s the use?

1 comment:

Grant said...

Along with the stock footage, that sounds like almost the whole PLOT of City on Fire, which I and a lot of others know from it's being a very early MST3K episode. I can swear that even includes the fire hoses not being long enough.
And it definitely includes the childbirth sub-plot. Maybe it's ridiculous to pick on disaster movies - of all categories of movie - for manipulating the audience, but that's the first kind of sub-plot I can do without when I'm seeing one of them.