By Laurie Coker

Rating: C-

Children, like fire, are completely unpredictable. Unfortunately, John Cena’s new movie, Playing with Fire, is blatantly predictable. Relying more on sight gags and pratfalls than on quality writing or acting, director Andy Fickman and co-writers Matt Lieberman and Dan Ewen miss their marks completely. With a cast as entertaining as this, it is a real shame that baby poop in a gas mask is in it at all.

Cena plays Jake Carson (John Cena), a by the book hard core fire superintendent and he and his elite team of expert firefighters (Keegan-Michael Key, John Leguizamo, and Tyler Mane), put out flames and save lives. This determined team is the best of best, facing pressure and danger with heart and experience, but when they rescue three children and are unable to locate their parents, these guys learn the true meaning of the word disaster.

Disaster is the best adjective for Playing with Fire’s script and direction. Truthfully, Cena, Key, and Leguizamo make the movie somewhat tolerable. Their chemistry and natural comic talent pull this film up by its fire-boot straps and afford a few guffaws. Fortunately, the children are absolutely adorable and Brianna Hildebrand (Brynn) and Christian Convery (Will), and Finley Rose Slater, (Zoey) make them so. This trio gives the men a run for their money – and as cliché, as that sounds, so is this movie. Every joke and exploit (some repeated ad nauseam) has been done before in better (and admittedly worse) films. Were it not for the kids, especially, Playing with Fire would go up in smoke.

An obvious grab for holiday box office revenue, Playing with Fire will have a family draw and given so little to draw from, it likely will earn. What it will not do is going on anyone’s classic film list now or later. We truly need more fresh options, films that do not rely on tired tales. Bring on films for the ages like Christmas Story, Love Actually, It’s a Wonderful Life (the Jimmy Stewart version) and a host of others – with ORIGINALITY at the forefront.  Playing with Fire earns a C- in the grade book. Instead of spending the money going out, stream a classic.

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