Playing with Fire (3 stars)

Playing with Fire

Passably entertaining family comedy starring John Cena and Keegan-Michael Key

Family comedy Playing with Fire offers a commendably modest alternative to massive fantasy franchises this Christmas. A simple, silly tale of macho firefighters who learn to stop worrying and love three adorable moppets, it's corny but easily digestible fare.

Wrestler-turned-actor John Cena has taken over the 'lunk with a heart' roles from Dwayne Johnson of late; here, he plays Jake Carson, who amiably rules over a Californian fire-station where morale is cheerful but discipline is lax. Despite his undoubted charisma and good looks, Jake's relationship with toad-loving scientist Amy (Judy Greer) has stalled, and half of his troop have quit for better jobs. Jake sits down to write his CV for a new post but, after his men rescue three unruly children, he's forced to put aside any thoughts of moving his career forward to act as nanny to the trio of mites.

Playing with Fire's earnest adoption subplot has echoes of last year's superior dramedy Instant Family, but director Andy Fickman doesn't try as hard to earn laughs or tears. However, compensations include a lively turn from Keegan-Michael Key who, alongside comedy partner Jordan Peele (an Oscar-winner for Get Out who more recently helmed the similarly lauded Us), had been slated to reboot the Police Academy franchise before Peele's movie career took off, and there's more than a flavour of that low-brow anarchic style in Key's child-pleasing antics. Dennis Haysbert and John Leguizamo also throw themselves into the soap-bubbles and low-flying excrement with enthusiasm; Playing with Fire is the cinematic version of a gunge tank at a kids' awards show.

With the action largely confined to one location, Playing with Fire goes unashamedly for the obvious. It's no classic, but just about manages the kind of warm and fuzzy connection that makes for passable holiday entertainment.

General release from Thu 26 Dec.

Playing With Fire

  • 3 stars
  • 2019
  • US
  • 1h 36min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Andy Fickman
  • Cast: John Cena, Keegan-Michael Key, John Leguizamo
  • UK release: 26 December 2019

Jake (Cena) is a Californian fire chief who, after his men rescue three unruly children, is forced act as their nanny. Corny but easily digestible stuff, with lively turns from Cena, Peele and the rest of the cast; no classic, but warm and fuzzy holiday entertainment.