Matty burns out with this terrible TV movie.
On 31st August 2017, The New York Times ran an article called ‘The Incarcerated Women Who Fight California’s Wildfires’. Written by Jamie Lowe, it told of Shawna Lynn Jones: a lag killed in the line of duty while working a woodland fire in 2016. It also detailed the program that she was part of: Camp Rainbow, a facility jointly operated by California state’s Division of Forestry and Department of Corrections that, as the title of Lowe’s piece suggested, trained and housed prisoners in order to clear wildfires. An eye-opening and powerful read, the article grabbed the attention of Suicide Squad (2016) star Margot Robbie and, on 4th June 2018, Deadline reported that the Australian actress and her production company, Lucky Chap, had optioned a script based on it. Alas, it’s been quiet ever since, leaving a pair of variable TV movies to stand as the only onscreen depiction of such compelling subject matter.
Of the two, it’s 2012’s Firelight — which aired on ABC under the long-running Hallmark Hall of Fame strand, and was exec produced by songstress Alicia Keys — that’s the superior offering. However, despite Firelight being genuinely well performed and eminently watchable in and of itself, saying that somehow sounds like faint praise as getting tarred and feathered would be superior to ever experiencing WILDFIRE 7: THE INFERNO again.
Broadcast on Fox at 8PM on 1st November 2002, Wildfire 7 begins with promise. Its opening reel comes across as a mix of G.I. Jane (1997), Top Gun (1986), and The Red Skies of Montana (1952); an appealing brew that soon spills into tedium and awfulness. A usually dependable presence in this sort of stuff, Tracey Gold never seems comfortable in her lead role as a jailbird turned smokejumper and is let down further by a depressingly rote script that, post her Full Metal Jacket (1987)-esque training, enjoys telling us how much of a badass she is but does little to actually show it. The supporting cast fare just as badly. A cameo from Joanna Cassidy, and Alexander Walters’ you-know-he’ll-respect-her-in-the-end cartoon bully schtick aside, every other character is a glorified extra at best or a mannequin at worst. Moreover, a couple of the blokes that pad out the eponymous team that Gold winds up spearheading following her release (when the film skips ahead four years and she’s suddenly the cream of the crop in the wildfire-fighting world) look very similar, making them impossible to distinguish.
Additionally, Wildfire 7 is stricken with a naff family plight subplot involving Gold’s estranged daughter — who, of course, happens to be trapped in the same smouldering sylvan strip that Gold and co. are trying to combat — and momentum is a real issue, too. The feature length debut of journeyman B-helmer Jason Bourque (his extensive credits range from SyFy to Lifetime), the film lacks the panache of his later, significantly better work, and is completely free of what’s now one of his defining and most pleasurable directorial touches: the breeziness with which he juggles drama and action. Here, those elements just feel forced and stupid. Bourque repeatedly deferring to leafy British Columbia scenery is a pretty and welcome distraction, but his jarring use of stock footage — which is of noticeably poorer quality than the rest of the film — and the dismal ‘fire’ FX he’s lumped with — more petering BBQ embers than searing hellscapes — invoke howls of derision rather than tension or danger.
USA/Canada ● 2002 ● Action, Drama, TVM ● 94mins
Tracey Gold, Alexander Walters, Joanna Cassidy ● Dir. Jason Bourque ● Wri. Dana Stone, from an original story idea by Keith Shaw (as ‘Lindsay Jones’)