I’m sorry to do this to you all, but Playing With Fire never quite catches light. A family-friendly studio comedy with its heart in the right place, it nevertheless lacks enough of a comedic punch to trouble the ‘anything but Star Wars’ festive film market.
Jake Carson (John Cena) is the straight-laced Superintendent of the local ‘Smoke Jumper’ unit; a ragtag bunch of firefighters who jump headfirst into danger. Carson is eyeing a promotion to his dream job, but this best laid plans are thrown off with the arrival of Brynn (Brianna Hildebrand), Will (Christian Convery) and Zoey (Finlay Rose Slater), who are rescued following a fire at their country lodge. While the jumpers await the arrival of the kids’ parents, they are forced to contain something even more volatile than fire; children.
Cena does a good job of embodying the prim and proper Carson, but he is surrounded by the overly forced comedy of Mark (Keegan-Michael Key) and Rodrigo (John Leguizamo). There’s a strong sense of camaraderie between the crew, but their comedic chemistry never quite fizzes. Instead, most of the laughs are decidedly slapstick in nature and more often than not lean into the ways in which the rambunctious kids turn the firefighters’ worlds upside down. And while it doesn’t try anything too ambitious, it does however provide an abundant amount of laughter throughout.
Despite its obvious shortcomings, there is an endearing side to the film in its closing acts. The firefighters show their softer side and begin to enjoy having kids around the place, while Carson’s growing relationship with Dr. Hicks (Judy Greer) is undeniably twee but good-natured.
Playing With Fire hits all the comedic and narrative beats you would expect it to, but throughout it lacks a spark. Maybe the smokejumpers were so good that they put out the fire before it even started.
Playing With Fire is on general release on Boxing Day.