REVIEW — “Playing with Fire”
Crackling with soft laughs, slapstick, and a side of schmaltz, “Playing with Fire” seems to be the family film of the fall—at least that’s how it’s marketing itself.
Directed by Andy Fickman, the film stars John Cena, Keegan-Michael Key, John Leguizamo, Brianna Hildebrand, Dennis Haysbert, Tyler Mane, and Judy Greer, and follows a group of firemen who must watch over three children who have been separated from their parents following an accident. Of course, this untimely babysitting duty happens just as Supe (Cena) is due for a promotion-winning inspection.
In the tradition of similar family films like “Daddy’s Home 2” and “The Game Plan,” “Playing with Fire” leans into the kids vs. grown-ups dynamic that kids just love and layers that with a mixed bag of tired family comedy clichés like: jokes that go on too long, awkward hugs, and farts! Astonishingly, the middle of the film briefly becomes a My Little Pony commercial, and yet it somehow it works!?
As he did in “Blockers,” John Cena once again flexes his comedic muscles and proves his ability to lead a film. Cena is understandably positioning himself as the next Rock and shows his growth in this film as a bankable star on the rise.
The always reliable and hilarious Keegan-Michael Key is the film’s secret weapon. The improvisational and sketch comedy pro is a bottomless pit of rapid-fire one-liners, a skill he proves in the after credits gag reel.
Unfortunately, I can’t say much about the three child characters in the film except they range from snobby (Hildebrand) and destructive (Christian Convery) to adorable (Finley Rose Slater). They may have personal baggage that is revealed in the third act, but that does not excuse the rude and recklessly dangerous mischief that they intentionally unleash on their rescuers. Plus, farts.
“Playing with Fire” is mostly harmless. Surprisingly, the film burns right up to the edge of annoying without seriously crossing over and causing any devastating structural damage to your psyche. Although it’s entirely forgettable, it’s a passable family comedy that will allow you to share a few laughs with your children. Just remind them not to act like the kids in this film under any circumstances.
With a run time of 96 minutes, “Playing with Fire” is rated PG.