Playing With Fire

Review by Rich Cline | 2.5/5

Playing With Fire
dir Andy Fickman
scr Dan Ewen, Matt Lieberman
prd Todd Garner, Sean Robins
with John Cena, Keegan-Michael Key, John Leguizamo, Judy Greer, Brianna Hildebrand, Christian Convery, Finley Rose Slater, Tyler Mane, Dennis Haysbert, Lynda Boyd, Shelby Wulfert, Daniel Cudmore
release US 8.Nov.19,
UK 26.Dec.19
19/US Paramount 1h36

leguizamo greer haysbert

key and cena
If this movie weren't so ridiculously slapstick, some elements played as comedy might feel shockingly inappropriate. Such as a young child blithely firing a nail-gun with no sense of peril. Or the eye-rollingly way this shallow film affirms toxic masculinity while pretending to undermine it. But itis never meant to be taken seriously, the cast are having fun, and there are some decent laughs along the way.
In Northern California, a team of tough-guy smoke-jumpers has just extinguished a wildfire when half the crew leaves to find more glamorous work with superhero Commander Richards (Haysbert). Superintendant Jake (Cena) is left with three loyal colleagues: sardonic ex-accountant Mark (Key), chatty ex-con Rodrigo (Leguizamo) and the strong, silent Axe (Mane). But when they rescue three precocious kids (Hildebrand, Convery and Slater) from a cabin fire, these manly man struggle to take care of them over a stormy weekend. Maybe they can help Jake understand why his date with scientist Amy (Greer) went so badly.
This is comfort cinema, undemanding and fully predictable as it veers from fake suspense in action sequences to riotously artificial comedy in extended buffoonery. In the real world, each of these set pieces would result in death or dismemberment, but here it's smiles all around. Cena, Key, Leguizamo and even Mane get plenty of time to mug shamelessly for the cameras, playfully undermining their relentless machismo with contrived sentimentality (pass the tissues, literally).

Thankfully, each of these four has his own brand of absurd charm, surviving even the corniest moments with dignity intact. Cena even generates some decent chemistry with Greer, so their awkward interaction has a hint of a spark. As for the kids, they are even more brazenly deployed by the filmmakers. Hildebrand has terrific presence as a smart, brave teen taking care of Convery's far-too-keen tween and Slater's hilariously smiley toddler, who instantly rechristens Jake's dog Glitter Pony instead of Masher.

Indeed, some of the best gags come thanks to repeated references to My Little Pony, which is only witty when juxtaposed with beefy men and adorable kids. The frequent poop jokes aren't quite as amusing. Nor are the makeshift family sentimentality and a continual series of obvious plot twists. But woven into this is a rather nice message about how life only gets better once we find the courage to let our guard down. So aside from asking us to laugh at homes in flames and children with axes, this is harmless silliness.

cert pg themes, violence 1.Dec.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall