Andy Fickman’s Playing with Fire is about an elite team of smoke-jumpers, and the film makes sure of something. The team’s leader, Superintendent Jake Carson (John Cena), wants audiences learn the distinction between smoke-jumpers and firemen. That is one of the many things that the film tries and fails to draw humor from. Another source of humor comes surprisingly, when Jake and his smoke-jumpers rescue three children (Brianna Hildebrand, etc.) who, in their own special ways, disrupt his barrack-like workplace.
The film casts most of its actors to type with the exception of Cena who, unlike some wrestlers turned actors, isn’t afraid to seem comically vulnerable on screen. He also has a few cards on his deck. We previously saw him play a robot, a culture vulture, and a dad. We get a variation of that third archetype that he mixes with alpha male sternness. In this film however, he spends the first act over-expressing that sternness. Part of his character arc, then, is him letting his guard down, which the children and a Dr. May Hicks (Judy Greer) helps him do.
Having the children enter their lives also bring out the archetypal qualities of the other smoke jumpers. The first few critics who have seen this have praise Keegan-Michael Key as Jake’s sidekick Mark. But he’s just doing the Angry Obama character in front of Hildebrand’s character Brynn, a sarcastic teenager. The conflict between Mark and Brynn has a predictable arc, the working class man showing that there’s more to life than being young and aimless.
I’d instead throw my praise onto John Leguziamo’s portrayal of Rodrigo. He reveals his character’s back story like a capable actor would do. There are jokes in Dan Ewen and Matt Lieberman’s screenplay about his life before becoming a smoke jumper. That past life reminded me of the demographic of the people fighting forest fires in real life. Still, the real forest fires happening right now in California still makes me feel awkward about how a comedy tackles these events.
However, the children in Playing with Fire are the reason why I don’t want to have any. I already wrote about Brynn’s sarcasm. Her younger brother Will (Christian Conley) is the kind of child who touches things he shouldn’t, which is not a good have in a fire station, a place with many dangerous fluids. To his credit though, he tries to fix his mistakes, but that just leads to a bigger mess and pratfalls that are unwatchable.
Lastly, there’s Zoey (Finley Rose Slater), who exists in the film so that the screenwriters can write fart jokes. And then they elevate it that to poop jokes. Her relationships to those jokes, however, is disturbing. There is, specifically, a shot of Zoey that made me worry about the psychological well being of future generations. She makes an off screen mess, but the mess on screen is hopefully one that most audiences will skip this weekend.
But if you choose to see Playing With Fire, you can find out where to watch it on https://tickets.playingwithfire.movie/.
- Release Date: 11/7/2019