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Playing with Fire

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Playing with Fire Movie Poster Image
Cena charms, but slapstick-heavy comedy doesn't fully spark.
  • PG
  • 2019
  • 96 minutes

Parents say

age 7+
Based on 11 reviews

Kids say

age 3+
Based on 3 reviews

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Positive representation of importance of community helpers and emergency responders like smoke jumpers. Promotes keeping orphaned siblings together and impact of foster and adoptive parenting. Salutes intergenerational friendship and mentorship. Themes include courage, empathy, teamwork.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jake and squad of smoke jumpers are brave, brotherly, kind. Several have playful sides that allow them to connect to, form bonds with the siblings. Jake is a man of order and organization; he's driven, disciplined, loyal. Dr. Amy Hicks is intelligent, environmentally aware, and kind (if not exactly a huge part of the film). The kids want to be together, to be safe, to be loved.

Violence & Scariness

Physical comedy and slapstick as kids wreak havoc at firehouse. Fire scene in which kids are saved is momentarily frightening, as are two scenes in which the kids are in danger of crashing or even falling off a cliff.

Sexy Stuff

Flirting and eventual embracing/kissing between a couple. A teen tries to give a man advice on how to text-flirt with a woman he's interested in. One quick image of a smoke jumper's poster of a scantily clad woman's behind.


Bathroom humor includes a joke about a preschooler pooping in her disposable training pants -- and the poop getting everywhere during a disastrous diaper change.


My Little Pony (animated show, as well as merchandise -- toys and party supplies) is prominently featured. Other brands seen include Dell, Kleenex, Google, Sony, Suave for Men, and the massive commercial truck.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byCommon_Sense123 November 9, 2019

Death (spoiler alert)

Overall this movie is fine for kids. But it’s shocking that in the review above, the “death” thematic is not mentioned once (heads up as it’s the entire baseli... Continue reading
Parent of a 2, 5, 6, 13, and 18+ year old Written byJohn T. November 12, 2019

Trashy movie with no message for kids.

It's good if you want your kids to be less intelligent. This film is dull and uninspired.
Teen, 13 years old Written byukegirl November 16, 2019

go get up and watch

this movie was so good! aldough im a teen i though it was the overall best movie i have ssen this year. me and my mom watched it and as a christan family it was... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written by03Sheldonerdmov... November 13, 2019

I only laughed 3 times.


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 ...

  • Families can talk about the role models in Playing with Fire. How do Jake and the other smoke jumpers display courage and teamwork? Why are those important character strengths?

  • 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?

Movie details

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