Live action family comedies are something of a thing of the past. If we flashback to early 2000s they were everywhere, and I grew up on them. From 'Cheaper by the Dozen' to 'Yours, Mine and Ours' and 'Daddy Day Care', these terrible movies are highly nostalgic for me, but the genre really peaked when Hollywood started to do "Muscle Man has to take care of kids" with 'The Game Plan', 'The Pacifier' and 'Tooth Fairy' - these films where both the high points of this time, but also what made it crash and burn. We still get a few every now again; 2014's 'Alexander & The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day' was a modest hit, and last year's heartwarming 'Instant Family' really brought back the genre and modernised it. As a sucker for WWE star-turned-actor John Cena, I was filled with so much joy when 'Playing with Fire' was announced and couldn't wait for all the cheesy fun I hoped I would receive in the return of the muscle versus kids trope.
Jake "Supe" Carson (John Cena, 'Blockers', 'Trainwreck') is a tough firefighter, devoting his whole life his job especially after the death of his father, who was also one. He is the leader of a team that includes Mark Rogers (Keegan-Michael Key, 'Keanu', 'Toy Story 4', TV's 'Key & Peele'), the emotional support, Rodrigo Torres (John Leguizamo, 'Sisters', 'John Wick'), the flyer, and Axe (Tyler Mane, 'X-Men')... the axe. Days away from a promotion, Jake and his crew are flipped on their heads - after rescuing three kids from a fire and with their parents out of town, it's up to this firehouse to take care of them. Will they ruin Jake's chance at a promotion? Will they soften this tough bunch? Will that help Jake open up to his love interest Amy (Judy Greer, 'Halloween', 'Jurassic World')? All will be revealed through hijinks, of course.
'PLAYING WITH FIRE' TRAILER
Reading all of that, the film sounds really cheesy and of course, it's one those films that is almost made from the poster - rough guys with crazy kids, that just looks so gosh darn silly! But while it does have the potential to be fun, what was unexpected was just how bland it is. The film has almost no score - it's so quiet, except for when they blast pop music, and of course all the songs have something to do with heat or fire. 90% of the film takes place at the firehouse, and it's such a cheap empty soundstage. We get a few scenes in the outdoors, but it's a lot of closeups or again wide empty spaces.
There are some positives, Cena is charismatic as hell; even when he is all tough and no smiles, you can't help but love him. We get to see him sing, which was just fantastic since the last time he sang was in the terrible terrible film 'Daddy's Home 2' and I was too angry to enjoy it at that point. We also get to be blessed with him wearing a 'My Little Pony' t-shirt that's little more than a crop top on him that he rips off (clearly to appease all the mums in the audience.. who are we kidding, me too). He's funny at times, but the biggest problem is that the film is so empty and boring.
While the film does have the potential to be fun, what was unexpected was just how bland it is. The film has almost no score - it's so quiet, except for when they blast pop music, and of course all the songs have something to do with heat or fire.
On the 'My Little Pony' note, this movie has a lot of Pony content, and this movie is produced by Nickelodeon, a network that doesn't air the show. It really confused me that they went so hard with all this product placement over a property they don't own, especially since they have shows like 'SpongeBob' and 'Dora'.
The film also feels like it wants to be a Nickelodeon sitcom so badly... stop doing that, Paramount and Nickelodeon *cough* 'Wonder Park' *cough*! Let a thing be successful before you franchise it. From the empty sets to music, you just need to cut in a laugh track and it's ready to go. I can't wait to see what John Cena-knockoff actor they will get like they did for their 'School of Rock' show with Jack Black.
This film is also directed by Andy Fickman, who not only directed one of the golden muscle versus kids films, 'The Game Plan', but other critically acclaimed films like 'She's the Man', 'You Again', 'Parental Guidance' and his magnum opus 'Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2', so you know you're in good hands. Undeniably, this is Fickman's most forgettable film - it's not so awful it's good, it's not fun, it's just boring.
Paramount has proved themselves with 'Instant Family' and this year's 'Dora and the Lost City of Gold', showing they can really work some magic and create really funny, wholesome, heartwarming live action family films, and 'Playing with Fire' could have been in that bunch if it wasn't so cheap and derivative. While Cena charms, the rest of the film isn't that hot.