We all got burned. So this is about a crew of firefighters led by Superintendent Jake Carson (John Cena). They can handle the most dangerous situations with ease, but they may have met their match. When they rescue three children from a burning cabin and their parents aren’t nearby, the crew will have to learn some parenting skills with the quickness. Now I had not heard much of anything about this one. I do think that John Cena is an underrated actor, especially when it comes to comedy. If you don’t believe me, you don’t need to look any further than Trainwreck. I understand the desire to relax and make a movie that your kids can enjoy, but I could tell that something was rotten here in about five minutes. Playing with Fire is borderline intolerable.
Get ready to roll your eyeballs.
Now I didn’t know what to make of this when this started. I wasn’t aware of the plot going in; I saw firefighters being macho during a call, and I figured that’s what this movie was. But it doesn’t take long for this movie to reveal what it is: this is a babysitting movie. You’ve got kids getting into shenanigans, lots of property damage, and adults who don’t know how to interact with children. I haven’t seen this type of movie in a while, though; I’m trying to remember the last time I saw something with this much physical humor in a family film, and I’ve got nothing. Maybe Dolittle? I’m not sure. Playing with Fire feels like a throwback to 90s TV movies, and I don’t mean that nostalgically. Apart from the rambunctious children, there are also dog reaction shots, and you can’t get much lazier than that in a family film. Nobody walks away from this looking competent. I had just praised Keegan-Michael Key for being charming and subtle in The Prom. I won’t retract my compliment, but I will say that he is the opposite here. He only doesn’t seem so bad by comparison because he is next to John Leguizamo. He is hamming it up in the worst way possible. You can tell that nobody could reign him in here, and where a good director would have him pull back, he was either left unchecked or encouraged to push it over the threshold of acceptability.
You can practically hear this photo, can’t you?
Playing with Fire is awful, and I had to deduct further points for an extended gross poop scene. I do think it saves a tiny amount of face at the very end. It wraps up sweetly, and because the music is swelling, it makes you realize that this wasn’t coming from a place of bad intentions; everyone was just severely misguided. It’s a minor piece of goodwill in an otherwise irredeemable movie. It’s also not a reason to watch it; I’m just explaining why I’m not rating this lower than I am. You should actively avoid this, and if your children are interested, please steer them away.
Playing with Fire (2019) *
– Critic for Hire