Playing with Fire

Foam Alone: John Cena and Keegan-Michael Key in Playing with Fire.
5/10 - A strong cast can’t elevate Playing with Fire, due to its burnt out premise and flat script.
Release Date: 
Thursday, December 26, 2019
Written by: 

John Cena leads a team of misfit firefighters who must find their paternal instincts in Playing with Fire.


In Playing with Fire, WWE star-turned-Hollywood actor John Cena treads the path many hunks, like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, have gone down before and moves again into family-friendly comedy.

He plays Jake 'Supe' Carson, a kind but uptight firefighter, who runs a misfit crew of California first responders dubbed "smoke jumpers" who fly in to tackle tough blazes anywhere, anytime.

Jake, and his fellow firefighters Mark (Keegan-Michael Key), Rodrigo (John Leguizamo) and Axe (Tyler Mane), pride themselves on their skills, even if they aren't the sharpest when back in the station.

But their shift takes an unexpected turn after they rescue a gang of unattended kids from a house caught in a forest fire; rebellious teen Brynn (Brianna Hildebrand), her little brother Will (Christian Convery), and baby sister Zoey (Finley Rose Slater).

Supe and his pals then have to take care of the trio until their parents, who are supposedly holding off until a dangerous storm passes, arrive - a difficult task, as with a whole fire station to run amok in, they inevitably cause havoc.

Unable to cope with the kids' antics, Carson attempts to offload them onto local naturalist Dr. Amy Hicks (Judy Greer), with whom he has a romantic history but is angry over the firefighters' use of water from ponds housing protected toads.

After she refuses, he must take on parental responsibilities that may last longer than just the duration of the storm.


Directed by Andy Fickman, a veteran of numerous similar comedies like Parental Guidance and Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, Playing with Fire follows a formula that's been trotted out countless times since Schwarzenegger swapped action for comedy in 1990's Kindergarten Cop.

Get an action star, in this case, Cena, and place him in a situation where he's a fish out of water, often involving wisecracking kids, but still gets the odd sequence that shows off his heroic qualities.

In theory, having once been the family-friendly face of the WWE, Cena should be the perfect fit - he's an unthreatening, kid-friendly screen presence, despite having biceps that bulge through his T-shirt like bald men trying to escape his armpits.

However, a dull script, uninspired direction, and the confected nature of the premise mean that unlike its scenery, the film never catches fire.

Carson's relationship with Dr. Hicks, in particular, feels like a box-ticking exercise that allows us to see how becoming a temporary father figure has matured him into a better man.

Key's comedic lines are probably the highlight and he bounces off Hildebrand nicely, just as you'd expect from two stars who have shown excellent comic chops elsewhere - Key in his and Jordan Peele's sketch show, the younger star as a deadpan foil to Ryan Reynolds in the two Deadpool films.

There's nothing particularly catastrophic about Playing with Fire. All those involved prove they are game for a laugh, and the comedy is mainly good-natured.

It's just, that despite a cast with ample comic abilities, and blazes as a backdrop, this is more damp squib than fiery festive comedy.

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