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  • Writer's pictureBen Pivoz

Playing with Fire

Updated: Jul 12, 2021

Smoke jumpers Rodrigo (John Leguizamo), Jake (John Cena), Mark (Keegan-Michael Key) and Axe (Tyler Mane) are forced to take care of three kids in Playing with Fire (Distributed by Paramount Pictures)

Some family movies are smart, clever and try to pass on worthwhile lessons with their entertainment. The comedy Playing with Fire is absolutely none of those things. It is not smart, clever, worthwhile or entertaining. It is dumb, derivative and exists so kids can laugh at poop jokes and people getting hurt. It may work on little kids. However, I can only review this based on my own experience. Admittedly, I did chuckle a few times. Still, overall, it did not even come close to working for me. I found it to be stupid, filled with idiotic caricatures and lame jokes. I like silly humor, but I also like plots and characters that are consistent. I guess if you find the idea of macho morons changing a diaper funny, this is probably for you. I just know it was not for me.

Superintendent Jake Carson leads a team of smoke jumpers in California. His life is focused exclusively on his job. While fighting a fire, Jake finds three kids trapped inside a burning cabin. With a storm raging outside, he feels duty bound to take care of them until their parents can come pick them up. Of course, he gets far more than he bargained for.

John Cena has done a pretty good job transitioning from pro wrestling into an acting career. He usually plays either action heroes or a guy who looks like he should be one, but is a softy deep down. As Jake, he is a mixture of both. The macho tough guy who only thinks about his profession, disliking children and relationships, before revealing a heart when he is forced to care about others. The macho aspect is way over the top, making it difficult to believe when he starts being nice. He orders the kids around like a drill sergeant and treats his men like equipment. Then he gets repeatedly humiliated by the kids and suddenly softens up. None of this makes him three dimensional. He is two tired clichés stapled onto one character. While Cena tries, really hard, he struggles to make any of it funny.

The kids: Zoey (Finley Rose Slater), Brynn (Brianna Hildebrand) and Will (Christian Convery)

The supporting cast includes Keegan-Michael Key, John Leguizamo, Judy Greer and Dennis Haysbert. Unlike Cena’s, their characters have no arc, though they also suffer from the problem of having to juggle the ridiculous and the heartfelt. The same is true of Brianna Hildebrand, Christian Convery and Finley Rose Slater as (respectively) teenage Brynn, young Will and baby Zoey. Despite setting the plot in motion, the movie is barely about them. Preposterous developments are forced on everyone, instead of things happening organically. The people become a clothesline to hang gags on, making it incredibly challenging to become engaged with anything onscreen. It occasionally approaches being a live-action cartoon, then there are stakes we are supposed to take seriously. If the cartoonish stuff was funny, it would be forgivable. It is not.

Playing with Fire (90 minutes, plus outtakes over the end credits) starts with a cute idea: a tough team of smoke jumpers must take care of a trio of kids, turning their depot upside down. However, too many of the jokes rely on the characters being significantly less intelligent than they are meant to be, making it all just an excuse for bathroom humor. I am sure I am taking this more seriously than was intended by its creators. It merely wants to be dumb fun with a heart. It is definitely successful at the first part, but I did not have fun. Maybe I am a grouch or maybe I have grown out of finding stinky baby poop funny or maybe it is very bad. Either way, there will undoubtedly be much better family movies coming out for the holidays; I recommend seeing any of those instead.

1¼ out of 5


John Cena as Jake Carson

Keegan-Michael Key as Mark

John Leguizamo as Rodrigo

Brianna Hildebrand as Brynn

Christian Convery as Will

Finley Rose Slater as Zoey

Judy Greer as Dr. Amy Hicks

Tyler Mane as Axe

Dennis Haysbert as Commander Richards

Directed by Andy Fickman

Written by Dan Ewen and Matt Lieberman

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