Remember when Vin Diesel took a break from driving furiously fast and ended up undercover as a babysitter having to take care of three unruly kids in The Pacifier (2005)? Well, replace Diesel with the bulky John Cena, reuse a few of the same man-struggles-to-provide-basic-care-to-children gags, throw in a storyline about pseudo-macho smokejumpers and you have the moderately funny flick Playing with Fire.
When a team of smokejumpers led by Jake Carson (Cena) arrives at a burning mountain cabin, they race against time to rescue three trapped siblings. Due to a storm that blows in, the smokejumpers must act as guardians for troublesome teen Brynn (Brianna Hildebrand) and her two younger siblings – the energetic and eternally curious Will (Christian Convery) and adorable toddler Zoey (Finley Rose Slater) for the weekend.
With a big promotion up for grabs, Jake struggles to balance his work and the new demands of caring for children, so much so that he misses vital signs that the kids are not telling the whole truth about how they came to be alone in a mountain cabin. His bumbling attempts at romance with the local scientist Dr. Amy Hicks (Judy Greer) further muddles the water.
Playing on the idea that men are inherently incapable of basic nurturing skills, the other smokejumpers attempt to fit Brynn, Will, and Zoey into their strict regime. But as everyone aside from these hapless men know, children don’t take well to overly strict rules and regulations.
With Keegan-Michael Key, John Leguizamo and Tyler Mane building out the rest of the smokejumper squad, audiences are in for a comedic treat.
Key is the standout comedian as the sensitive Mark, drawing laughs from both slapstick humor and more nuanced gags. Leguizamo portrays a nervous helicopter pilot with a penchant for Spam ham and Mane is the giant, silent, Axe who carries an ax propped on his shoulder at all times. They bounce off each other effortlessly and despite their attempts to show otherwise, they are not the alpha males their job suggests.
Straight from 2018’s Blockers, it seems that Cena’s found a niche in the hunky dad role. He oozes straight-laced conservativeness that is just calling out to be challenged by the inherent innocence and naivety of children.
While Playing with Fire is entertaining, it’s unlikely to spark much of a fire in moviegoers this summer.
When asked his thoughts on this film, John Cena stated, “There’s poopie stuff in it.”