Playing with Fire Review: Four Men And A Couple Of Babies

By Marc Miller
Published: November 7, 2019 (Last updated: last month)
Playing With Fire review: Four men and a couple babies | RSC


This is a page out of The Rock’s playbook when he did the Tooth Fairy; a so-called family-friendly comedy with a lazy script that rests on the charisma of its likable lead. Playing With Fire is relatively inoffensive, but this four-men-and-three-babies spin borders on tedious.

John Cena really has the potential to be the next Dwayne Johnson; he has a natural charisma that you just can’t teach. He is also funny. It practically oozes out of him. Do you know when a comedian is considered funny just by looking at him? You start to smile and giggle with the smallest facial expression. His new film goes the so-called family-friendly route, taking a page out of The Rock’s playbook by doing a child-centric comedy that will establish you with younger audiences now because eventually, they can spend their disposable incomes on you as teenagers. Cena’s Playing with Fire is Johnson’s Tooth Fairy, an inoffensive (relatively) comedy that you bring your kids to so you can watch them laugh; just make sure your cell has a good charge on it for some social media browsing if you are an adult.

Cena plays straight as an arrow superintendent of a group of brave smokejumpers (an arrow actually might have scoliosis by comparison) named John Carson, who tries to live up to his father’s legacy. The senior Carson left behind a reputation of being a world-class firefighter himself. Of course, when they take in three children they saved during a forest fire, no amount of training protocol in the world can prepare them for 72-hours of babysitting duties. I mean, usually, a nice television, a decent satellite system, and some futons would do the trick, but this isn’t a short film, even though you may wish it was. John Leguizamo, Keegan-Michael Key, and Tyler Mane round out the reserves, helping Cena search for laughs and the kids when they go missing.

Playing with Fire should have been named Four Men and Three Babies since it’s basically a cartoonish remake of the ’80s Three Men and a Baby(if you look through those rose-colored glasses of youth, somewhat). I would have preferred a little Gutenberg awfulness over the supporting cast trying to be ad-lib through a remarkably lazy script that can make the most inept of works look inspired. The first few minutes actually start off well in a sense; you have a bunch of smokejumpers leaping out of a plane and looking like a Vegas all-male review show that goes for laughs saving weak men and their women who want a little more Kurt Russell in their lives. It then turns into a G-rated comedy that you think is a vehicle for a new My Little Pony franchise since they banter about it more than Patricia Heaton talked about Castle on The Middle.

Still, you have to know who this film was made for; very little, and I mean the tiniest of kids, and for adults to feel like they’ve been held hostage for 90 minutes. Cena’s charisma and comedy chops keep this from becoming a complete embarrassment, but this is a fraudulent attempt to be labeled as a family comedy. This isn’t close to last year’s Instant Family, which is something that’s very hard to pull off; that film had a wonderful combination of adolescent humor and a story to keep families happy, even if it pandered to the mainstream audience.

The kids may laugh during Playing with Fire; at the screening I attended, it seemed to be gobbled up by the target audience that doesn’t know any better. Adults may focus on the cute kids, the mass of muscles, and a big pooch that uses his own fire hose to put out a small blaze or two. There are worse ways to spend 90 minutes, but you should spend your money on digital rentals of much stronger child-friendly films. If you don’t go that route, please give national treasure Judy Greer a pass. Remember, we all need to pay our bills, there’s no shame in it.

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