Starring Nicholas Brendan, Robert Beltran, Sandrine Holt, Randolph Mantooth
Directed by John Terlesky
Somewhere buried at the core of Fire Serpent is a really intriguing idea about extraterrestrial lifeforms emanating from the sun that have been arriving on earth via solar flares for eons, their existence documented in the Bible (Leviticus gets quoted several times) where their fiery nature was misinterpreted as being something angelic. The two best scenes in Fire Serpent are nothing more than a pair of conversations about the nature of these fiery creatures from both an alien lifeform and quasi-religious point of view. Listening to these two exchanges and given the movie’s humorless tone, I came away thinking that this concept would have been better suited for a stand alone episode of “The X-Files” and not yet another run-of-the-mill Sci-Fi Channel original movie, a rather boring one at that.
So basically there are these fire creatures from the sun that keep arriving on our planet and immediately set about in search of fuel sources to sustain their flame. An opening flashback set in 1966 shows such an incident claiming the life of the girlfriend of forest firefighter Dutch Fallon. Flash forward to the present where “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”‘s Nicholas Brendan – continuing “The Buffy Curse” I’ve written about in other lousy genre movies starring former cast members of that show – plays a cocky, young, woodland fireman who witnesses his partner-in-firefighting go up in flames – flames that sprouted fiery tendrils and reached out and grabbed him.
This brings in a National Fire Agency investigator played by Sandrine Holt, looking and sounding as bored as any an actress I’ve ever seen in a movie. She’s then called in to meet with a shady National Security Agency creep (“Star Trek: Voyager”‘s Robert Beltran, who in the course of 90-minutes goes from bland to ham – baked ham to be exact), who sets her on a path in search of Dutch Fallon, now a suspected arsonist who keeps turning up at the site of mysterious fires. Fallon, meanwhile, takes Brendan under his wing and begins teaching him everything he knows about these otherworldly fire creatures. Initially finding it all hard to believe, Brendan becomes convinced that maybe the haggard conspiracy theorist isn’t so nutty after all, especially once NSA agents begin tossing grenades into his car and after he witnesses the fire serpent doing some of its body-snatching action.
In addition to just being a fire serpent, it can also leap inside of people’s bodies and taking them over; fire in their eyes, ability to shoot flames from both their eyes and limbs, and leaving behind a corpse that’s only burned from the inside out.
Here’s the immediate problem with the fire serpent – the idea behind the fire serpent is interesting; the movie’s manifestation of that idea isn’t. Most of the time it doesn’t actually do much of anything. It burns a few things here and there, travels through some cables in search of more energy sources (the primary thing its shown doing throughout the film), and then there’s the occasional body-snatching, but mostly it takes a backseat to characters talking about it and the usual nonsense involving bad guys trying to kill the good guys in order to cover up the truth. It looks like fire, only sporadically sprouting flaming tentacles and the outline of something vaguely resembling a dragon’s head. Why does something that has no need for a mouth possess a mouth full of fangs, I ask?
Of course, it just wouldn’t be a by-the-numbers Sci-Fi Channel original movie if there wasn’t at least some sort of evil corporate or government villain mucking things up. Beltran fills the void and does so doubly. You see he starts out as a shady fed wanting to keep the existence of these creatures – something our government has known about for a awhile – top secret even if it means having to resort to murder. But by the finale he’s gone from stereotypical government bad guy to stereotypical religious fanatic bad guy. Remember the crazed minister at the end of the 1988 remake of The Blob who had in his possession a piece of the creature that he intended to unleash one day as part of god’s wrath? Well, that’s basically what Beltran becomes during the last half hour – a deranged Judeo-Christian zealot who captures and then plans to unleash the fire serpent at the strategic petroleum reserves, thus giving it all the fuel needed to grow into a cataclysmic creature capable of cleansing the world of sinners. Whatever. His inexplicable transformation from god-fearing yet unscrupulous fed to religious wacko with delusions of being an apocalyptic harbinger really does jump from Point A to Point C while skipping Point B in between. He suddenly becomes a stark-raving lunatic because that’s what the script called for.
Note to all bad guys: if you don’t want to risk someone discovering your secret masterplan then don’t leave diagrams of your secret masterplan displayed on the computer monitor in your office while you go to use the potty.
The only real bright spot amid the dreary dullness that is Fire Serpent comes in the form of veteran journeyman actor Randolph Mantooth’s turns as Fallon; a good performance wasted in a bad movie. If this had been an episode of “The X-Files” then he’d be the guy Mulder and Scully encounter that knows the truth about what they’ve been called in to investigate. The debate he has with Beltran regarding the potential religious implications of the fire serpent and the conversation he has with Brendan where he lays all his cards on the table about both his backstory and his dealings with the alien presence contain the sort of dialogue you’d expect from that show. All for naught.
Again, this is a Sci-Fi Channel movie that amounts to a whole heck of a lot of nothing. We keep waiting for stuff to happen and when stuff does happen, frankly, it wasn’t worth the wait. And the way they rather easily kill the title monster at the end – another big whatever.
“Created by William Shatner,” that credit actually appears in the opening credits. I want to know how much of Fire Serpent‘s story did he actually create. Did someone else create it, bounce the idea off him, and let him take the credit? I find it curious that William Shatner is credited with being the mastermind behind this movie and yet the Sci-Fi Channel did very little to use his name to promote it? That may be for the best. Given how poorly the end product turned out I’d suggest Shatner follow the lead of his Denny Crane character on “Boston Legal” – just blame it all on mad cow and forget it ever happened.
1 out of 5
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