On the rise as a natural comedic actor, professional wrestler John Cena takes on the role of a superstar “smoke jumper” in Andy Fickman’s new family comedy Playing with Fire.
Set in the wildlands of Redding, California, Superintendent Jake ‘Supe’ Carson (Cena) leads a crew of larger-than-life smoke jumpers, self-described as “fire fighters but way cooler.” At their first appearance they are swift, attractive, and in control, leaving married women swooning in their wake and children running into parked cars in an attempt to embrace them. They’re the heroes of Redding and completely ill-equipped for anything besides containing fires.
After a routine search and rescue, Supe and his team of buffoons are begrudgingly saddled with three overzealous children for a weekend of outrageous antics thanks to the state’s safe haven laws. Tough, manly, and conditioned into a highly regimented lifestyle, the presence of siblings Zoey, Will and Brynn throws everything they thought they knew into disarray.
Played with the casual perfection that made her a fan favourite in Deadpool and Deadpool 2, Brianna Hildebrand takes on her first real family friendly role as oldest sibling Brynn. Fierce and protective of her siblings and herself, Brynn is a fine match for the men of Redding Fire Depot. A skilled pickpocket, Brynn often instigates schemes to escape. However, like all snarky teens in these films, she hides a heart of gold beneath her aneurysm inducing sarcasm.
In contrast to Brynn, younger siblings Will and Zoey (played by Christian Convery and Finley Rose Slater respectively) are more outwardly chaotic. Spreading mayhem everywhere they go, they are loveable and every parent’s worst nightmare. Unable to keep up with their boundless energy and enthusiasm for mischief, Supe and his team are subjected to a string of cat and mouse games that not only test their patience but their skills as men.
The “Redding Crew” – consisting of clingy captain Mark Rogers (Keegan-Michael Key), chopper pilot Rodrigo Torres (John Leguizamo), and silent and intimidating Axe (Tyler Mane) – are the pillars that help support the Redding Fire Depot. Ridiculous in so many ways, they don’t stray too far from genre stereotypes. Perhaps it is because of Key and Leguizamo’s skills that this trio makes a great comedy combination in spite of this. Between Torres ruining every historically famous quote, Rogers’ often overly exaggerated reactions, and Axe’s symphony of grunts and mumbles, they are a delicious recipe for a hearty chuckle.
Additionally, the inclusion of Judy Greer as Supe’s love interest and toad enthusiast Dr Amy Hicks adds a good balance to the majority male cast. Not the leading lady that many viewers would expect, Greer is a refreshingly cute and nerdy career woman that strikes up a pleasing balance with the buff and macho male lead.
Cutting his teeth in an industry that typically hasn’t been kind to entertainers making the switch to acting, John Cena is playful and loveable as the sweet but strict superintendent. Cena’s natural charisma and Key’s comedy expertise in particular blend beautifully together and is the true standout of the film. Rogers’ ability to anticipate Supe’s every need establishes a relationship between the men that is as heartwarming as it is funny.
Despite its completely predictable plot, Playing with Fire is a fairly good time. By no means anything new to the genre, Fickman’s film benefits from its excellent cast and core messages paired together with classic slapstick conventions and super smooth costume change transitions. With enough silly jokes to entertain both kids and parents alike, Playing with Fire is able to separate itself from the pack of children’s comedies just enough to be memorable.
Playing with Fire will have its general release to Australian cinemas from December 12.