by Doug Schultz
In the movies, a dumb character lights a match or blows some cigarette smoke or pulls an alarm, and EVERY fire sprinkler in the building goes off. But here's the thing: sprinklers are individually activated by temperatures in excess of 155 F; only the sprinkler closest to the fire will discharge (eww), leaving the rest of the building completely dry (note: there are a FEW instances in which a deluge system will activate every sprinkler head in an especially hazardous location, but c'mon -- those are rare). Frankly, I'm sick of this inaccurate, lazy and dangerous (yes, dangerous) screenwriting shortcut.
1. Die Hard (1988)
2. Changing Lanes (2002)
3. The Incredibles (2004)
I love this movie. I love director Brad Bird. And I love Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011) (all roads lead back to Ghost Protes). But even I can't reconcile the lazy choice behind having all the residential sprinklers go off in the Parr household. I mean, it doesn't even advance the plot! Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) receives a private note that self-destructs, which causes a small explosion, which cases smoke (but no fire), which causes every house sprinkler to burst (eww). Interestingly, when baby Jack-Jack turns into a human fireball, all the sprinklers remain sealed. Perhaps Bob deactivated them?
4. The Matrix (1999)
5. Elizabethtown (2005)
Garbage movie (aside from what-my-memory-tells-me is an OK road trip sequence[?], but that's probably only because director Cameron Crowe really knows how to pick music). And a garbage gimmick. A prop bird is accidentally set on fire during a cover band's (Ruckus, made up of Paul Schneider and members of My Morning Jacket) rendition of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird," triggering the entire sprinkler system to purge (eww). Chaos ensues, the band continues to jam and our two lovebirds giggle because SO RIDICULOUS, right?! Listen, the only time I want to see Kirsten Dunst soaking wet is right before Spider-Man gives her an upside-down kiss, OK?
6. Hocus Pocus (1993)
7. Lethal Weapon 4 (1998)
You guys, Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) is crazy. And Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) has had enough of this shit. And every Asian (including Jet Li) is a cartoon character (racist much?). And fire sprinklers spew (eww) whenever you pull a fire alarm. So, you know, complete fiction. Except for the part about Gibson's mental health.
8. Constantine (2005)
In order to dispatch a gaggle of demons, John Constantine (Keanu Reeves, in a rare Flick Bait twofer!), uses his Zippo to ignite a single sprinkler head, causing the rest of the giant room's sprinklers to gush (eww) forth with [get this] HOLY WATER, thus burning his enemies with God's cleansing sacramental goo, previously blessed by his assistant Chas Kramer (Shia LaBeouf). And by "blessed," I mean The Beef just drops a big ol' cross into a vat of water. You know -- the Christian way. This scene also gets a pass because the effect is kinda cool. This is not an instance of an apathetic writer looking for a way out of a scene (needing to evacuate a building for our hero, for example). Here, the fire sprinkler water is servicing the plot.
9. Mean Girls (2004)
Another likeable, fun movie that uses this tired trope as an uninspired means to end a scene. Super unimaginative (I expect more from writer Tina Fey). Principal Ron Duvall (Tim Meadows, fumbling the word "immediately"), attempting to stop a huge fight, cracks open the glass enclosure to a fire alarm with the handle of a bat, which triggers the school hallway's sprinklers to secrete (eww) their contents. The water immediately stops the fracas, because all shallow girls worry about their hair. You know ... adolescent female concerns drawn from real-life scenarios.
10. Accepted (2006)
Hey, and just so you think I'm not sleeping on the job, I'm aware that many other films -- including Frequency (2000), Bruce Almighty (2003), The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (2004), Chicken Little (2005), The Perfect Man (2005), Casino Royale (2006), Meet the Robinsons (2007), This Is Where I Leave You (2014) and Veronica Mars (2014) -- feature this frustrating ploy also. I mean, it's just ... how long do you want these lists to be?