Review by Sean Boelman
Playing with Fire, starring John Cena, Keegan-Michael Key, and John Leguizamo, is the latest film to pit comedic actors against cute kids in the hopes of eliciting cheap laughs from the audience. Painfully conventional and sadly devoid of legitimate laughs, this movie feels like a waste of the surprisingly large budget that went into making it.
The film is about three firefighters who must take care of three troublemaking kids after they rescue them from their burning home and their parents are unable to retrieve them. As one would expect, there is more going on in this story, but every attempt at surprising audiences will only be unexpected for the youngest of viewers. Parents and even older kids who see this will likely be able to see where this story is going as if the ending is giving off smoke.
However, perhaps even more disappointing than the predictable story is the fact that the humor is annoyingly derivative. Gags often go on for much longer than they should, if they were ever funny at all, to the point that many viewers will be left checking their watches to see what time they can escape. Even the obligatory gag reel that accompanies the credits is largely unfunny.
Although the runtime of the movie is just over an hour and thirty minutes, the film ends up feeling much longer because the filmmakers seemed to have no sense of comedic timing. Often, the movie will be building up to a big joke, only to let the audience down with a cringe-inducing punchline, or even worse, no punchline at all.
The characterization in the film is also extremely weak. All of the characters are extremely flat and have little to no arc. The only character that has any legitimate development is the character portrayed by Cena, but everything about his story is extremely bland. His quest to get a promotion provides some much-needed conflict in the movie, but isn’t explored in a way that adds depth to the character.
Despite the talented comedians that comprise the cast, the film feels sadly devoid of any charm. It isn’t that the actors aren’t trying — they seem to be legitimately having fun — it is that they don’t seem to realize that the movie they are acting in is not particularly good. The only actor who does consistently get laughs in Dennis Haysbert, playing the straight-faced character.
On a technical level, the film seems to have a decent amount of money put into it, especially for a comedy like this. The opening, featuring the characters fighting fires, actually features a few somewhat impressive effects. However, the way in which it is blocked to make it feel more comedic ruins the effect that this has.
Even though the premise seems ingenious on paper, and the filmmakers were able to assemble the cast to make it work, Playing with Fire burns out rather quickly. Lacking humor or an interesting story, this movie is likely to bore both the kids and their parents who decide to venture out to see this burning mess.
Playing with Fire opens in theaters on November 8.