Ablaze (2000) - Movie Review
Updated: Jul 21, 2020
Here is how ABLAZE (2000) is described on the back of its DVD packaging:
A deadly arsonist holds a city hostage. A routine investigation into a hotel fire becomes a grisly discovery when evidence uncovered among the ash suggests the fire was planned. As more deliberately set blazes sweep across the city, local firefighters scramble to save as many lives as they can. But the body count is rising and soon it becomes clear that these fires are deliberate death traps - perfect infernos created by a Serial Arsonist turned Serial Killer.
That movie sounds cool!
That movie is not ABLAZE though.
ABLAZE is directed by Jim Wynorski under the pseudonym Jay Andrews. The film is a hodgepodge of scenarios involving firemen putting out fires. Sometimes they are big fires: oil refineries that explode and send stuntmen falling while engulfed in flames. Sometimes they are small fires: a kid lights his toy airplane on fire and throws it into his bedroom because he thinks that would be a fun thing to do. All fires must be extinguished, though, because the firemen believe in one philosophy: Nobody Burns. They chant this philosophy at several points in the film, egged on by their captain, Jack Thomas.
John Bradley plays Thomas, a firefighter with a Master's in English. He holds a special grudge against fire because fire took the life of his wife. He also pees on charcoal during cookouts to keep the fire from getting too hot - because he's a sociopath, but the film doesn't spend nearly as much time exploring that concept as I wish it did.
The film bounces from scenario to scenario until it eventually becomes an Irwin Allen disaster movie in which a desperate crew of firefighters, medical professionals, and patients must escape from a hospital before a firestorm engulfs the building. The reason why the film has such a schizophrenic tone is that it is cobbled together using stolen footage from other films and television shows, including the 1979 Alvin Rakoff disaster pic CITY ON FIRE and episodes from the '70s television show EMERGENCY!. You'll have no trouble telling when the film switches to this stock footage because the movie will suddenly go from looking like something shot in the early '00s to something that looks like it was shot in the '70s.
But what about Ice T, you may be asking yourself. He is on the poster after all. How does Ice T factor into all this? Much like his namesake on a hot summer day, there's just not nearly enough Ice T in this film. The rapper turned actor clearly dropped by the set of ABLAZE on his lunch break from LAW AND ORDER to collect a quick paycheck as he only shows up for about 10 minutes worth of the film's run time.
The film begins with Fireman Jack teaming up with a cop (Ice T) to stop somebody who I think is supposed to be an arsonist (which leads me to my theory that whoever wrote the DVD package's description stopped watching the movie after the first ten minutes). Ice T and John Bradley engage in a truly incredible car chase through the streets of Pittsburgh, chasing the arsonist down before shooting him in such a way that he explodes into flame (it's science, look it up). The entire time they are exchanging great banter such as "What did you eat for lunch?" "Keep driving like this and I'll show you!" Audiences will begin to think that they are in for a great buddy cop movie about a firefighter and a cop teaming up to arrest fire and crack wise but then Ice T disappears from the film until the final three minutes. Oh, and that incredible car chase from the opening of the movie? It was lifted wholesale from the 1993 Bruce Willis movie STRIKING DISTANCE!
ABLAZE is a goofy movie but I had a ton of fun watching it. It's a pretty spot-on homage/rip-off of the disaster film craze that swept the '70s, with a great ensemble cast including ... Tom Arnold as the corrupt tycoon whose negligence is responsible for his refinery exploding, causing the firestorm. He gets to wear a suit and scream at people before he catches on fire. So many great staples of television yesteryear are set on fire in this film, including Cathy Lee Crosby, Pat Harrington, Jr., and Caroline Seymore. Fire should have been given billing on the movie poster alongside John Bradley, Ice T, Tom Arnold and Michael Dudikoff. Oh yeah, Michael Dudikoff is in this movie too.
The film is not well made but I found it pretty dang entertaining. If you enjoy watching stuntmen and women catch on fire and run screaming through movie sets, you can catch it streaming on Amazon Prime.