Movie Guru: ‘Playing with Fire’ is predictable and that’s okay
Editor’s note: This film is not currently showing at the Riverwalk of Edwards, CineBistro in Vail or Capitol Theater in Eagle.
When it comes to movies, being predictable isn’t always a bad thing.
That’s the case with this weekend’s “Playing with Fire,” starring John Cena. True, it’s a textbook example of a specific genre of Hollywood film, where a tough guy is forced to interact with a group of hijinks-prone small children and grows as a result. But, once you get past a few glitches in its first half, it’s also remarkably sweet. With the holiday season upon us, a solid dose of warm fuzzy feelings is sometimes all you need out of life.
The movie starts with a small team of smoke jumpers, led by Cena as the emotionally-repressed tough guy. Half their crew quits for more glamorous work, leaving the jumpers who are most prone to pratfalls. Unsurprisingly, this is just before a storm forces the crew to take care of three siblings for the night. Just as unsurprisingly, the three siblings all have an eye for trouble and plenty of opportunity to start it.
Movies like this always lean hard into the physical comedy, and “Playing with Fire” is no exception. Cena handles the bulk of it, crashing gamely into a host of painful-looking items. John Leguizamo is the best at the goofy, panicked faces, and overall is basically Sid the Sloth (from the “Ice Age” movies) in human form.
The movie struggles a little to figure out what to do with Keegan-Michael Key in the first half, but once they figure it out he gets some of the movie’s funniest bits. The rest go to Tyler Mane, who is an absolute hoot even though he hardly ever speaks.
The best actual acting of the movie comes from Brianna Hildebrand, who fans will remember as Negasonic Teenage Warhead from the “Deadpool” movies. As the oldest of the children, she gives the entire movie far more depth and pathos than it actually deserves. Please, Hollywood, someone put this girl in a drama so we can all see what she’s truly capable of.
Until that happens, however, I’m happy watching her help a bunch of smoke jumpers learn what it means to be a family. The kids end up doing some learning as well, which only adds to the heartwarming dynamics throughout the last half of the film. The movie does everything in its power to tug at the audience’s heartstrings, but they put real effort into every attempt they make. While it’s all stuff you’ve seen before, it never feels manipulative.
If you’re looking for a deep movie, you’re probably going to want to go somewhere else. But if you like your movies with a hearty dose of both heartwarming feelings and dramatic pratfalls, then this is the crew for you.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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