I have a confession to make. I’m the daughter of a firefighter and so I love seeing movies that feature my Dad’s profession. And, having spent a good deal of my childhood hanging around a fire station (although there was no pole to slide down), I know the kind of trouble kids can get in when left to their own devices in a fire house.
“Playing with Fire” isn’t about firemen and women at all. As Superintendent Jake “Supe” Carson (John Cena) makes clear, he and his fellows at the Redding, California house are smokejumpers, not firefighters. When he and his team rescue three kids from a burning cabin, they are obliged by law to take care of the kids until their parents can be located. The thing is, these tough guys don’t know what to do with the millennial intrusion into their well-ordered routine.
Brynn (Brianna Hildebrand), Will (Christian Convery), and Zoey (Finley Rose Slater) claim that their parents are on a trip but they’re really orphans living off the grid so they won’t get split up by the foster care system. Brynn has looked after her younger siblings for over a month but she knows the gig is up because Jake is obliged to call Child Protective Services.
Brianna Hildebrand, Christian Convery, and Finley Rose Slater in "Playing With Fire" (Paramount)
In the meantime, the three kids, but especially little Zoey, worm their way into the hearts of the smokejumpers. Rodrigo (John Leguizamo) connects with his inner child while misquoting numerous famous people. Mark (Keegan-Michael Key) tries to temper Brynn’s sarcasm with hilarious rounds of bickering. Axe (Tyler Mane) grunts his way through any verbal exchange but will sit down with Zoey for a tea party. Jake just wants to maintain some semblance of order so the station is up to snuff when the outgoing commander comes to speak to him about taking on the job after his retirement. The only thing Brynn wants is for Jake to wait until after Zoey’s third birthday to call CPS so they can spend the day together.
“Playing with Fire” is about as predictable as they come. The slapstick humor will have every kid wishing they could hang out in a fire house but the story really serves only to provide Cena and Key with ample opportunities to stretch their comedic chops. They do it so well that even the adults in the audience will bust out laughing when they respond to Zoey’s toxic flatulence. Then she renames Supe’s dog, Masher, Sparkle Pony. And the name sticks.
A side plot with Judy Greer as the toad-loving Dr. Amy Hicks does little to flesh out the story but Greer’s funny enough to be a welcome addition to the motley crew.
In the vein of “Kindergarten Cop” and “The Pacifier,” “Playing with Fire” isn’t a great movie but it’s good, clean, fun (even though audiences get more than one glimpse of Cena’s muscly torso) and it might just remind the adults that it’s good to be willing to go way out of our comfort zones for the beloved young ones in our lives.