All Jake Carson (John Cena), Captain of a crew of smoke jumpers, wants to do is honor his late dad, Dan Carson. When he saves the lives of three young kids, Jake is presented with the challenge of his life, thrust into the world of parent and guardian.
Is he ready? Will he fail? Will the smoke of newfound human responsibility suffocate him? I kid, so humor my candor a little.
Andy Fickman’s new film, “Playing with Fire,” is what you would call cinematic cotton candy. It looks cute and delightful enough from a distance, but once you shove a wad into your mouth, the decision quickly becomes regrettable. There’s no suddenly no going back.
If you like every firefighter cliche and joke jammed into a single script, this is the movie for you. If you like pancake syrup-like storytelling, this is your flick. It doesn’t tug at your heartstrings; the film swings a machete at them.
Fickman knows what he is doing, so I don’t fault him. He made a similar comedy with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson with “The Game Plan” and also directed Johnson in “Race to Witch Mountain.” Fickman’s new film follows the same game plan, no pun intended. A very talented perfectionist has the opportunity of a lifetime presented to him only to find parenthood dropped at his door, forcing him to become a better man. Yawn!
“Playing with Fire” has all the ingredients of a been there/seen that tough guy gets melted entree. The wacky pilot who constantly gets his historical quotes wrong (The criminally wasted John Leguizamo); the large and quiet ax man (Tyler Mane); the loyal sidekick and comic relief (the always endearing Keegan-Michael Key). Don’t forget about the sweet love interest who everybody thinks Jake should ask out (Judy Greer). It’s all there. Add two cups of water and mix together in a bowl.
It’s not rocket science. Cena is indeed following The Rock playbook, even if he doesn’t quite have the charisma and presence of the latter movie star. Heck, he’s taken over Johnson’s spot in the next “Fast & Furious” adventure. Maybe Cena will get there one day. Fickman is staying in his filmmaking wheelhouse here. The problem is the wheelhouse isn’t original, fun, or worthwhile to begin with. It’s slapstick comedy at its worst.
Most importantly, it’s very forgettable. I took my eight-year-old son to see it with him, and even he wasn’t so impressed. He was more interested in the arcade afterwards than recanting his favorite moments from the movie.
“Playing with Fire” is definitely one for the kids. Adults should pack an extra flask or make sure the concessions stand sells wine and beer. There isn’t much to enjoy here. It’ll likely just make your movie stomach hurt.