Playing With Fire (2019) produces plenty of smoke but never catches alight.
Although it suffers from the same problem which blighted the 2016 “Ghostbusters” – every supporting cast member is competing to one-up each other in a game of schtick – once things settle down a little and John Cena starts to take ownership of the movie, it ends up being a sweet – if slight – slapstick comedy of the kind which they used to make so well in the ‘80s but demonstrably seem to have lost the knack for nowadays.
When a provincial smokejumper team rescue three children, they find themselves obliged to look after them until their parents can come and pick them up. But while Superintendent Jake Carson (John Cena) prepares for a potentially career-making inspection by the outgoing Division Chief, the children are causing chaos and messing with his well-disciplined operation with ‘hilarious consequences’.
Both Keegan-Michael Key and John Leguizamo start the movie with their dials turned right up to 11 and, to be fair, Key never dials it down. Cena spends much of the first half of the movie simply reacting stoically to other’s nonsense but his undoubted star quality eventually begins to shine through and he steps forward to keep the flimsy and forgettable premise on track for the required ninety minutes. There are some funny bits, of course, although most of them are in the trailer and while “Deadpool” alum Brianna Hildebrand seems curiously subdued, the real barrier to preventing the film’s sentimental heartbeat is the inability to cry even remotely convincingly by otherwise regulation cute central casting moppet playing the youngest of the three children.
With thin, clichéd characterisation, feeble plotting and not quite enough jokes to keep things ticking over, the film relies too much on the individual and variable charisma of its cast t overcome the lazy, by-the-numbers direction of Andy Fickman. It amused the Cragglings well enough while it was on screen but as soon as it finished, it vanished – like a puff of smoke.