In "Fire With Fire," a post-Clearasil "Romeo and Juliet," a young man (Craig Sheffer) who has been jailed -- unfairly, of course -- in a reform school meets a young woman (Virginia Madsen) similarly jailed in a convent school. He's running from his fellow inmates in some sort of sadistic exercise; she, a photography buff, is floating in a white dress in a pool of water, taking her own picture. It's love at first sight, or, as they used to say in the Old Hollywood, a "meet-cute."
Under the rules, he's not allowed to make phone calls. Under the rules, she's not allowed to get phone calls. Whatever will they do?
What follows are condom jokes (I'm not kidding), a love scene in a crypt (I'm still not kidding), and an extended high-school dance scene that will be catnip to all those out there who are busily attending proms but numbing brain-o-cain to anyone else.
Nobody ever accused him of pandering to the audience, but even Ol' Will had the good sense to get Mercutio killed toward the beginning of his play, just to juice things up a little. Screen writers Paul and Sharon Boorstin and Warren Skaaren, the new Bards of La Brea, have "improved" on the original by omitting any meaningful story conflict from the first hour of their movie.
Movies like this aren't really movies -- they're addenda to ad campaigns. Once Paramount came up with that catchy title and the ad itself, in which Madsen appears to be offering herself up for a ritual laryngectomy, the movie itself was almost an afterthought. So what you get is a movie about passion that's about as passionate as a tax audit. As photographed by director Duncan Gibbins, the image of "Fire With Fire" is dull and flat, but what's missing mostly is, uh, fire. The pace of the movie is extraordinarily languid; it relies instead on the charm of its performers, which is something besides compelling. Madsen, whose face is fat with innocence, demonstrates an adequate, choir-girl naturalness, but when it comes to carrying a movie she's a little watery. And Sheffer seems to have earned his acting credentials primarily on the Nautilus machine. With his squat nose, knitted brows and deep-set eyes, he looks as if his entire face is about to disappear down a drain in the middle of his head.
Fire With Fire, at area theaters, is rated PG-13 and contains profanity and sexual themes.