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Blu-ray Review: Playing with Fire

February 4, 2020

By John Corrado

★ (out of 4)

There have been a lot of comedies about closed off men becoming unlikely caretakers to kids who help them open up and rediscover the importance of family. It’s a premise that, in the right hands, can offer room for both humour and heart.

But Playing with Fire, director Andy Fickman’s riff on this premise which sets the action at a rural fire depot, simply squanders any potential that it might have had, offering little in the way of genuine humour or heart. It’s a film that feels doomed right from the start, failing to even live up to my mediocre expectations. I can live with mediocre, but this film sails right past it and is often just plain bad.

Jake Carson (John Cena) is a burly, overly stoic firefighter who serves as the no-nonsense superintendent of an elite team of smokejumpers stationed in the middle of the California woodlands. Jake leads a small group of firefighters, including the goofy Mark (Keegan-Michael Key), the neuritic Rodrigo (John Leguizamo) and the silent Axe (Tyler Mane) – all broad caricatures in their own right – who are known for dropping themselves into the middle of the action to battle forest fires.

Jake tries to run a tight ship, but the fire depot gets thrown into chaos when they rescue three kids from a burning cabin in the woods. Suddenly, Jake and his team are forced to play the role of caretakers to the sarcastic teenager Brynn (Brianna Hildebrand), her hyper younger brother Will (Christian Convery) and rambunctious little sister Zoey (Finley Rose Slater), being legally required to care for them under the Safe Haven Law, until their parents can be contacted. Predictably, Jake and his men start to soften up and bond with the kids, forming an unlikely family unit.

Right from the opening scenes of Playing with Fire, which sees Jake and his team getting dropped into the middle of a blaze, the film comes across as tone-deaf, and it’s hard to get around the fact that this is a silly children’s comedy built around the devastation of forest fires. When the film does attempt more serious character drama with a thoroughly predictable twist partway through, it rings hollow. Fickman never allows for the genuine pathos that would have been needed for something like this to work, going instead for the lowest common denominator in terms of jokes, characters and story.

Almost nothing about this poorly paced film works. The special effects look fake, the humour ranges from broad to gross, and the performances are overly exaggerated. What we are left with is a mix of dumb humour and plastic sentimentality, that holds little appeal for anyone other than the youngest of kids, and even they deserve better than this obnoxious, grating and cheaply made film.

The Blu-ray also includes about fifteen minutes of deleted scenes, bloopers, the brief piece Storytime With John Cena which features the star offering his own version of a bedtime story, and the four short featurettes Lighting Up the Laughs, The Director’s Diaries: Read By Star Cast, What it Means to Be a Family, and The Real Smokejumpers: This is Their Story.

Playing With Fire is a Paramount Home Media Distribution release. It’s 95 minutes and rated G.

Street Date: February 4th, 2020

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