Director: Andy Fickman
Cast: John Cena, Keegan - Michael Key, John Leguizamo, Brianna Hildebrand, Dennis Haysbert, Judy Greer
Runtime: 1 hr 35 mins
Released By: UIP
Opening Day: 9 January 2020
Synopsis: When straight-laced fire superintendent Jake Carson (John Cena) and his elite team of expert firefighters (Keegan-Michael Key, John Leguizamo and Tyler Mane) come to the rescue of three siblings (Brianna Hildebrand, Christian Convery and Finley Rose Slater) in the path of an encroaching wildfire, they quickly realize that no amount of training could prepare them for their most challenging job yet – babysitters. Unable to locate the children’s parents, the firefighters have their lives, jobs and even their fire depot turned upside down and quickly learn that kids – much like fires –are wild and unpredictable.
Australia probably needs the help of John Cena right now. Wrestler turned actor, Cena (Bumblebee, Blockers) plays the commanding officer of a team of smoke jumpers aka trained wildlife firefighters, Jake Carson in Playing With Fire. Heroic, brave and tough, Carson is fearless when comes to his job but is completely hopeless in human relationships.
His team of staff left him to join the big league, his romantic relationship with a certain Dr. Amy Hicks (Judy Greer) is blowing hot and cold and all he has left in his life is his dream of being the replacement for the division commander post and his three loyal subordinates, Mark (Keegan Michael-Key), Rodrigo (John Leguizamo) and Axe (Tyler Mane).
Carson’s life and attitude starts to change after saving three kids from a burning cabin as Carson and his goofy teammates have to take care of them temporarily until their mother comes back. What is the secret behind the three kids? And what magic are they going to weave to change the all too serious Carson?
Coming from Andy Fickman who directed another wrestler turned actor, Dwayne Johnson in The Game Plan, he sure knows how to concoct a series of childish, wacky antics to amuse the younger ones. Most of the runtime is spent on slapstick comedy that most adults won’t find exactly hilarious. Let’s see there’s a prolonged scene which has Carson and Mark trying hard to change toddler Zoey’s smelly diaper, an over-reliance on My Little Pony jokes and other gags that involved fire, spilling oil, fire extinguisher and a nail gun. Dangerous stuff in reality but in the hands of Fickman, all these evolved into props for comedy.
Most of the movie’s comedy is formulaic even the antics from Home Alone seems way better. The movie attempts to be heartfelt towards the end but the screenplay is too ludicrous and simple to make an impact. The children are projected as rowdy, smart and likeable. That perhaps is owed to the cutesy Zoey.
John Cena has that likeable onscreen charisma and notably he can act. Besides Dwayne Johnson, Cena is the next best wrestler turned actor, his comic timing is near perfect. Check out Blockers and Trainwreck if you don’t believe me. He just needs a better script or a blockbuster that doesn’t contain a robot as the main star. Keegan Michael-Key and John Leguizamo are both serviceable as the sidekicks and comedian Judy Greer is near forgettable.
From a family movie point of view, Playing With Fire delivers a truck load of childish humour that will entertain the specific younger demographic. It doesn’t really require much thinking or require much writing and effort on the filmmaking process. And of course, it’s preposterous to even think of it being a worthy spokesperson for firemen or their firefighting efforts. On the other hand, Arnold Schwarzenegger has his turn with kids in Kindergarten Cop, Jackie Chan in The Spy Next Door and Vin Diesel in The Pacifier, perhaps it’s just John Cena’s turn to be part of this ritual.
(Yet another bland and unfunny comedy for adults but kids might find it loaded with laughs)
Review by Linus Tee