A drab disaster flick featuring phoned-in performances by faded Hollywood stars, the Canada/U.S. coproduction City on Fire never quite delivers on its title, offering instead a few explosions at a refinery and an extended sequence during which flames threaten the occupants of a crowded hospital. Vignettes depicting the impact of an allegedly citywide fire are anemic at best. Furthermore, the underlying premise is quite sketchy. After getting passed over for a promotion, disturbed refinery worker Herman (Jonathan Welsh) rushes around the facility, releasing fuel into the adjoining city’s water supply so that when sewer workers using a welding torch accidentally ignite the fuel, flames emerge throughout the city. Because, of course, disgruntled former employees are generally allowed free reign at high-security facilities. Oh, well. The nominal hero of the piece is he-man physician Dr. Frank Whitman (Barry Newman). Other characters include an alcoholic newscaster (Ava Gardner), a stoic fire chief (Henry Fonda), an opportunistic mayor (Leslie Nielsen), and a worldly nurse (Shelley Winters). As for the female lead, she’s heiress Diane (Susan Clark), who shares romantic history with Frank and happens to be at the hospital during the crisis. City on Fire is so predictable and sluggish that it’s quite boring to watch, though a few absurd moments amuse. In one scene, Diane scoops vomit from a patient’s mouth while trying to deliver mouth-t0-mouth resuscitation. In another, Frank walks down a row of burn victims, touching each one but never performing medical services or issuing commands to subordinates. City on Fire eventually features a decent fire walk by a brave stunt performer, but that’s hardly reason enough to tolerate 106 minutes of stupidity and tedium.
City on Fire: LAME