John Cena and Judy Greer elevate this family comedy that won’t quite ignite.
The hero of “Playing With Fire,” Jake Carson (John Cena), is forever pointing out that he’s not a firefighter. He’s a smokejumper, and with the help of his quirky crew, played by John Leguizamo and Keegan-Michael Key, Jake drops from helicopters to put out forest fires. With single-minded focus, he seeks out the most dangerous blazes. Unfortunately, the flat-footed family comedy around him fails to produce sparks.
Jake’s hyper-regimentation is challenged when his crew lowers him into a burning cabin. He finds three children huddled in the blaze and takes them into his care at the station. Immediately, the kids, ranging in age from toddler to teenager, make themselves too much at home.
Most of the movie’s comedy comes from the chaos of children run amok in fireman’s land. They shoot nail guns and play in the fire simulation room, and their ragamuffin charms quickly win over the grown-ups. Jake warms, abandoning regulation in favor of fun at home and even romance with the scientist gal next door. But despite the novel setting, the director Andy Fickman has made a visually flat film. The editing is frequently awkward, clunkily overemphasizing physical gags, and lingering too long on the actors as they try to light up dusty material.
What “Playing With Fire” does get right is its central casting. Cena suits his woodblock character, imbuing the square firestopper with a warmth that seems neither phony nor self-conscious, and the always welcome Judy Greer waves her magic character-actress wand to fill out what might have been a scolding love interest. It’s an unchallenging movie, but as far as unchallenging kids movies go, the actors ensure this one doesn’t fall into soullessness.
Playing With Fire
Rated PG for action scenes and gross out humor. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes.
Playing with Fire
When you purchase a ticket for an independently reviewed film through our site, we earn an affiliate commission.DirectorAndy FickmanWritersDan Ewen, Matt LiebermanStarsJudy Greer, Keegan-Michael Key, John Cena, Brianna Hildebrand, Tyler ManeRatingPGRunning Time1h 36mGenresComedy, Family