Heaven’s Fire (1999)

Burning skyscraper in Heaven's Fire.

Directed by: David Warry-Smith
Starring: Eric Roberts, Jürgen Prochnow, Kaj-Erik Eriksen, Cali Timmins, Venus Terzo

It’s Die Hard meets The Towering Inferno, with Eric Roberts as the hero and Jürgen Prochnow as the bad guy! How could you possibly go wrong?

Actually, you can’t. The short version is that for a made-for-tv disaster thriller, this one is actually pretty decent. Browsing user reviews on IMDb turns up a few harsh pans, but those people can’t possibly have seen stuff like Terror on the 40th Floor or Ice Twisters.

The story starts off with an emergency call for an ambulance helicopter to aid a hiker who has apparently fallen and broken his leg in the woods outside Seattle. This turns out to be an evil plot, as the chopper is hijacked by a group of armed men led by tough guy Jürgen Prochnow and his teutonic accent. Also tagging along is Jürgen’s girlfriend, played by Venus Terzo.

Meanwhile, single dad Eric Roberts and his purple-haired son (Eriksen) arrive at a federal building downtown to pick up Eric’s girlfriend and her daughter, the four of them going to a basketball game. The girlfriend (Timmins) is a tour guide in the building and has one final group of tourists to take care of this afternoon. Eric and son tag along.

At the same time, the hijacked helicopter lands on the roof of the very same building, and Jürgen and his associates quickly overpower the security guards. It so happens that Jürgen is a disgruntled former federal agent who is now out for revenge, and intends to steal dollar bill printing plates from the U.S. treasury office in the building.

The first part of the operation goes according to plan – until the bandits run into the tour group. It turns out that Jürgen and Eric are former colleagues with a long history of mutual dislike. As the criminals’ cover is blown things start to go wrong. Half an hour into the plot the getaway helicopter crashes into the side of the federal building, starting a big fire and blocking access to lower floors. Almost simultaneously a leaking gas pipe causes the roof to catch fire as well. Now both bad guys and good guys are caught between two converging fires with no way out…

While starting out as your average action-thriller, Heaven’s Fire moves into pure disaster movie territory as the building catches fire. We have the classic collection of cliché personalities trapped in the crisis – in this case two obnoxious teens, an elderly couple, a supposedly cool dude and a consistently whining accountant – and a (small) sideplot teaching us that disasters are a great way to work out relationship problems. Highlights include a scene in a demolished stairwell where the tourist group has to climb across a burning abyss, and the climax offers up a fist-fight between Eric and Jürgen in a burning office as the two fires are about to merge. In all its genre-bound predictability, it’s quite entertaining.

I’m not going to say that this is a great film, because it isn’t, but it’s definitely above average for a made-for-tv disaster film. The primary weakness is the frequently terrible dialogue and to some degree the stilted delivery of same dialogue by parts of the cast. Heavily expository lines sounding like they were being read from cue-cards – you know what I’m talking about. (There’s an early scene in an elevator that should win some kind of award in that department.) That said, both Prochnow and Eric Roberts deliver good performances, while some of the supporting players in the tourist group go for straight over-acting instead.

There’s a certain drab quality to the visuals that practically screams “made -for-tv”, but otherwise production values aren’t too bad. Effects-wise, we’re treated to a moderate amount of CGI deployed with discretion and some respectable physical effects. The exterior shots of the burning skyscraper by night look pretty good, and there’s some really nice fire footage towards the end.

All in all, Heaven’s Fire is an entertaining little disaster movie that actually surpassed my expectations. The rating might be a tad on the generous side, but hey – it’s not an exact science.

Rating: 3/5

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