At the turn of the millennium, disaster movies could command a semi-modest budget for a straight to DVD or limited release movie. These would by no means have the huge effects of a Hollywood blockbuster but be a fair yard stick better produced than anything Sci-Fi and The Asylum could churn out. Enter Firetrap. It’s one of the last of its breed and does a great job of doing a lot with little. If only the characters were more likeable!
The disasters faced
A thief, a company takeover, dodgy IT deals, CIA investigations, car washes with secret escapes and a building with zero sprinkler systems that has been set up to burn down as quickly as possible.
Max Hooper is a top tier burglar. He can’t be the very best as he has just been released from prison after a three year stretch. His wife doesn’t want him back… but she does really because she gets all excited when he drops a new car round for her. Eugh – have some morals.
No sooner is Max out, he and his tech whizz Vincent are back to old tricks and get offered a mother of all deals. Steal an advanced technology IT chip and get the hell out of there before it ends up in dodgy hands (for dodgy read ‘not American’). Little do they know, its the CIA that have set them up and in order to cover all their tracks, they’ve rigged the place to burn down in a raging inferno.
As all this is going down, the board of IT company IQ Industries have gathered for a big meeting. Company CEO Jack Calloway knows there has been an information leak but doesn’t know who. Among them are a collection of potential suspects who could be causing the leak. Lucy, is having an affair with Jack. Roger who is looking at leaving to start his own company, trying to take Caitlin with him too, whom seems nervous at the whole thing. Michael has a briefcase full of confidential documents he doesn’t want to let go of. Dr Chow has been with the company from the start – has he had enough? It’s likely to not be dopey secretary Traci though, she is just a lovable gal who seems far too excited at any attention thrown her way.
No sooner do we have that bombshell Jack’s wife Cordelia show up with her snobby lawyer Richard and hands over divorce papers in front of the entire board. Their loveless marriage has crumbled down and Cordelia wants out – but not before rubbing Jack’s nose in it first. Not one person is really portrayed as a nice person, bar Traci or the guard Clark.
When the fire erupts thanks to dozy cleaner Geiger trying to put it out with a broom (?!) killing himself in the process, all the main characters are on the 20th floor as a fireball shoots up the building taking out the roof, the 6th floor and the reception. Our chief thief Max was in the middle of his IT chip heist and decides to bail out. When he saves guard Clark at reception level in his policeman disguise, he learns that people are still trapped upstairs. With $3 million dollar signs in his eyes, he continues on with his disguise, diving back into the fire to help the rescue. That way he can walk all the way to the vault with the chip in, get at it, grab the chip and escape. With Vincent protesting to say its a bad idea, Max leaps back in with Clark the guard in toe.
What follows for the next hour is a tense and intriguing mashup of Cluedo and The Tower Inferno. Whomever has the info and/or the chip is among the survivors but as they escape down to the 6th floor, a secondary explosion blows out the stairwell. With the fire burning up office space, the survivors must keep going up floor after floor looking for escape. With each floor comes new revelations about who could be double crossing who. Usually this ends up with one of the group meeting their end in a flame grilled way and often taking someone innocent with them at the same time! Of course, Max still wants his paycheck – so for how long can he keep everyone alive and still follow through on his mission. Those two end goals may not quite allign…
Why is it worth watching?
Firetrap has an awful lot of story going on, being played by a lot of actors whom have done many bigger and better things elsewhere. Thankfully none of them are sleeping on their laurels and bring plenty to the smaller screen. The movies ‘who stole it’ plot will continue to twist and turn as various people switch loyalties. In general, if you are a weasel, you’ll get your comeuppance as well which is always delicious. The movie is also not afraid to kill off most of its cast. The vast majority of the characters trapped in the building will not be making it to the end credits. No one – apart from perhaps Max – feels like they are too important for the story and that’s a good thing. Does it have a nasty streak? Not really – its the characters that are often the nasty ones and meet their maker.
Another feather in Firetrap’s cap is its tight runtime at just over an hour and a half. In fact, you could argue that the film is a little rushed. The opening 15 minutes deal with a completely different heist so we are introduced to Max, Vincent and their way of life. We only meet all the main characters of the main event twenty minutes in and I’d have liked to have seen them developed a little further. Characters are given moments to themselves, albeit sometimes with clunky exposition, but at least we get to know them a little. This is all done in pauses between fleeing fire and apart from the CGI explosions – the fire is real! This adds so much to Firetrap. They had the budget to set office rooms on fire and then make people run through the set. Flames feel close to characters too – there is a real sense of danger.
The real fire here really elevates the movie as the CGI shots, whilst used sparingly, aren’t much better than a Sci Fi movie 20 years later. Firetrap does like to use a lot of slow motion when firefighters are on screen and that does get old fast. To make up for that, the makeup effects for burned and bloody victims are well done including one man on fire stunt (did someone say Will Giddings?). There is also a great elevator shot too although you can clearly see its stuffed dummies being set alight.
Now here is where Firetrap takes a little tumble. Most of the characters initially are not very likeable. The movie does this to set up the whole cluedo mystery of the stolen computer chip but that puts a barrier between us and the characters. Richard the lawyer is just a constant idiot. Traci is gormless. Michael is a complete wet lettuce. Roger is slimy. Caitlin acts like she is on some kind of cocaine come down in waiting. Cordelia is portrayed as just a drama queen whilst Lucy is just a Plain Jane. Those who stick around long enough do get to move passed those initial assessments but I’d have preferred more meat on the bones earlier on. Paul is given the biggest arc as he goes full banana nuts for money and escape. There is also the fact that Paul is played by Richard Tyson whom I know best from Kindergarten Cop! He looks exactly the same nearly a decade later and he is still being a baddie. Max himself is an interesting character too. Once a thief – always a thief? Perhaps – but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have morals in other areas of his life.
If he takes a crap I wanna know how many times he wiped! You got me?!FBI Chief
Three memorable moments
- Seeing Dean Cain (or someone pretending to be him) do backflips like a rubber band in the opening Mission Impossible style robbery sequence.
- Roger patting a door down, declaring it cold and therefore safe and then opening it to see flames everywhere! Such a great poke at itself!
- Cordelia and Lucy having their awkward conversation over the fact Lucy has been sleeping with her husband Jack all whilst Cordelia makes a split for Lucy’s broken leg.
The obligatory weird moment
The whole movie plot revolves around an IT chip but we never know what it is capable of. It is stored in a vault which has a code that starts with 305 on a note that we see several times. Paul enters the code incorrectly starting with 321 instead. Gah! It all feels a little pointless anyway as a few chops of a fire axe into the wall from Roger means they can short circuit the key code instead. Plot line ex machina!
The drinking game
Each time we see a firefighter in slow motion. Firefighters are given a few scenes during the movie to allow the main cast to progress. Chief Sheehan is often just staring up at the building but not really doing much. The rest of his crew are just moving in slow motion shots.
Firetrap is a great oddity. It doesn’t have a huge budget but it uses what is has to great effect. There is a lot of fire, a lot of carnage, a lot of drama and a high character death count. The last thing you can accuse Firetrap of is being boring – even if it is rough around the edges. I miss this style and tier of disaster movie in today’s world.
Rating: 3 / 5 Good
Visit the films page for more info on the cast, crew, artwork and screenshot gallery.
If you liked Firetrap then you may like…
- The Tower Inferno – The original blazing tower of suspense inspires today.
- The Tower – Korean take on a burning building and one of my personal favourites.
- Inferno: Skyscraper Escape – Cheesy but fun low budget take on a burning building.