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Backdraft Review

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Two Chicago firefighter brothers who don't get along have to work together while a dangerous arsonist is on the loose

★★★★★

With a script by a former fireman that invites the taunt “Don’t give up the day job”, this by-the-numbers drama of estranged brothers reconciled would be mighty poor stuff but for special effects to thrill the secret pyromaniac in everyone.

Russell and Baldwin are the hot-headed firefighting sons of a fireman who died a hero in the line of duty. Kurt’s is the elder, macho, unforgiving type; William’s (a sexy replica of elder brother Alec, down to the chest hair pattern) is the feckless, scaredy-cat rookie.

Thenceforth the plot is so hokey that every time the siren sounds you’ll be laying odds at seven to five on who’ll fry next, who’ll save whom, who’s going to redeem himself with heroics, etc. Robert De Niro, who appears initially to have stumbled onto the wrong film set, perks up the proceedings no end when he takes centre stage as an obsessed fire investigator in a promising mystery sub-plot that sadly fizzles out.

There’s even a nod to Hannibal Lecter in Donald Sutherland’s cameo as a crazed, incarcerated arsonist to whom the good guys turn for tips on how to catch their current firestarter. All this, however, is just kindling for the main attraction, which is fire. According to De Niro’s sage “The only way to kill fire is to love it a little”, and Howard’s love affair with the element here is delirious: an ominous musical theme greets every lick of flame until fire becomes as sentient and exciting an adversary as the shark in Jaws; choking actors clutch tiny children and stagger manfully in slow motion through sensationally rendered conflagrations; fire hoses assume the role of laser guns in thrilling action set pieces.

Dramatically, of course, it's utter twaddle, but with state-of-the-art incendiary special effects and a sex scene on top of a fire engine, there's plenty of bang for your buck.

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