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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Playing with Fire is a family comedy starring John Cena as "Supe," an elite smoke-jumping squad leader who rescues three siblings from a fire and has to take responsibility for them until their parents can claim them. The kids wreak havoc at the firehouse, playing with equipment and testing the patience of by-the-book Supe and his loyal crew (John Leguizamo, Keegan-Michael Key, and Tyler Mane). There's not much iffy material, but you can expect a few moments of peril (fires, crashes, a near fall off a cliff), some bathroom humor (the littlest sibling's poop gets all over), and mild teasing between the kids and the adults. A couple flirts, embraces, and kisses; a teen tries to give a man text-flirting advice; and there's a quick image of a poster of a scantily clad woman's behind. The movie pays tribute to the courage of emergency responders and to the impact of intergenerational friendship and foster and adoptive parenting. The story encourages adults to prioritize family and friends over professional ambition and has themes of empathy and teamwork.
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What's the story?
Director Andy Fickman's PLAYING WITH FIRE follows Jake "Supe" Carson (John Cena), a second-generation superintendent of a squad of elite California firefighters known as smoke jumpers. Their straight-laced, rule-following demeanor is put to the test when the team rescues three siblings from a fire and must provide safe sanctuary for them over a long weekend. Complicating matters is the fact that Supe is applying for a promotion and expects an important evaluation from the retiring Commander Richards (Dennis Haysbert). The kids -- teenage Brynn (Brianna Hildebrand), tween Will (Christian Convery), and preschooler Zoey (Finley Rose Slater) -- prove more difficult to control than Supe or his crew imagined. But as the kids and adults -- including Mark (Keegan-Michael Key), Rodrigo (John Leguizamo), and Axe (Tyler Mane) -- get to know one another, it's clear that Supe needs the siblings as much as they need him.
Is it any good?
Like Arnold Schwarzenegger and The Rock before him, Cena capitalizes on the charm of no-nonsense alpha males tapping into their nurturing sides in this slapsticky action comedy. Playing with Fire isn't nearly as quotable or memorable as Arnold's Kindergarten Cop, but the cast has enough comedic chemistry to keep families entertained. Leguizamo and Key deliver most of the jokes, with mountain-of-a-man Mane existing primarily as a sight gag. The screenplay is familiar, but at least the emergency responders storyline feels relevant, given the ongoing wildfire crisis in California.
The three siblings range widely in age, so they hit a breadth of parenting issues, from potty training and My Little Pony play to lack of impulse control, mechanical curiosity, and adolescent angst. Unlike the movie Instant Family, which covered weeks and months of foster care, this film compresses the timeline to just a few days. That makes the mayhem the kids can cause on otherwise-organized adults' lives that much more manic. Younger viewers will particularly enjoy the big firehouse dog, as well as the various commercial trucks and tools and the downright silliness of the crew getting in touch with their childlike imaginations. Judy Greer co-stars as Jake's love interest, USDA environmental scientist Dr. Amy Hicks, but she's slightly underused until the final third of the movie.
Talk to your kids about ...
Why is it funny to watch big, burly, child-free men being around young children? Can you think of other movies with similar storylines?
What lessons does Jake learn from the kids? How do they impact him for the better? What do the kids learn from Jake and the other men in the squad?
- In theaters: November 8, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: February 4, 2020
- Cast: John Cena, Keegan-Michael Key, John Leguizamo
- Director: Andy Fickman
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Cars and Trucks, Friendship
- Character strengths: Courage, Empathy, Teamwork
- Run time: 96 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: rude humor, some suggestive material and mild peril
- Last updated: September 11, 2020
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