From left: Keegan-Michael Key, Christian Convery, Tyler Mane, John Cena, Brianna Hildebrand, Finley Rose Slater, and John Leguizamo in Playing With Fire.
From left: Keegan-Michael Key, Christian Convery, Tyler Mane, John Cena, Brianna Hildebrand, Finley Rose Slater, and John Leguizamo in Playing With Fire.

MOVIE REVIEW: Star vehicle sends originality up in smoke

PLAYING WITH FIRE

Two stars

Director: Andy Fickman

Starring: John Cena, Keegan-Michael Key, John Leguizamo

Rating: PG

Running: time 96 minutes

Verdict: Barely a spark

 

AFTER rescuing a sharp-tongued teenager and her two, cute-as-a-button siblings from a blazing inferno, a gruff, emotionally arrested firefighter is forced to take care of them for an entire weekend.

While Jake "Supe" Carlson's fellow smokejumpers do their best to support him, it's amazing how much havoc a bunch of rebellious youngsters can wreak on a small space in a ridiculously short period of time.

Designed as a star vehicle for wrestler-turned-actor John Cena, this Nickelodeon family comedy is not so much Playing With Fire as microwaving soggy leftovers.

Keegan-Michael Key, Finley Rose Slater, and John Cena in Playing With Fire.
Keegan-Michael Key, Finley Rose Slater, and John Cena in Playing With Fire.

Flat direction and a screenplay that feels as though it has been written by committee do nothing to freshen up an already familiar storyline.

Like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Kindergarten Cop, Vin Diesel in The Pacifier, and Dwyane Johnson in The Game Plan, which was also directed by Andy Fickman, Cena plays a musclebound alpha male reduced to jelly by his three young charges.

There's also whiff of Tom Selleck's Three Men And A Baby in the regulation nappy-changing sequence, which Fickman draws out to such an extent, it borders on inappropriate.

Cena has been a memorable screen presence as a supporting player in comedies such as Blockers, Daddy's Home 2 and Trainwreck.

But his oversized persona is under-utilised, here, in the lead role of Supe, a by-the-book first responder who thinks nothing of leaping feet first, into a forest fire, but who is terrified of emotional commitment.

Keegan-Michael Key, Christian Convery, Tyler Mane, John Cena, Brianna Hildebrand, Finley Rose Slater and John Leguizamo in Playing With Fire.
Keegan-Michael Key, Christian Convery, Tyler Mane, John Cena, Brianna Hildebrand, Finley Rose Slater and John Leguizamo in Playing With Fire.

Of course, that makes life incredibly hard for his would-be love interest, amphibian biologist Amy Hicks (Judy Greer).

John Leguizamo also works hard to milk some laughs out of his cowardly helicopter pilot and Keegan-Michael Key threatens to inject some genuine humour into proceedings with his lightning quick performance as Supe's fanboy, but the material works against them.

Tyler Mane's taciturn Axe has to wait almost the entire film to deliver his one punchline. And then it stiffs.

Briana Hilderbrand (Deadpool) makes her presence felt as Brynn, a sassy teenager who is clearly hiding something about her parents' whereabouts, while Christian Convery and Finley Rose Slater mug it mercilessly for the camera as her two siblings - particularly in the aforementioned poo scene.

Soap suds, fire hoses, toilet humour, prat falls - you already know the drill.

While it's hard to resist Playing With Fire's cheesy feel-good resolution, which lights up Cena's loveable lug, there are precious few laughs in the lead up.

Opens Thursday