“Playing with Fire” is a movie that does exactly what it’s supposed to do: entertain. Directed by Andy Fickman (“Race to Witch Mountain”), it may not be a cinematic masterpiece with a heart wrenching plot or clever camerawork, but it succeeds in capturing your attention and making you laugh (despite admittedly cheesy stunts and dialogue).
As a Nickelodeon movie, I expected it to be a short, feel-good, family-friendly movie, which at first concerned me. I’d thought that since the target demographic was primarily kids, it’d be predictable and not worth watching. It was predictable, but in the end, it was also worth watching. It’s another movie with a tough guy with a “manly” job, Jake Carson (John Cena, “Bumblebee”), who is forced to take care of some kids and eventually learns to love them and to open himself up to vulnerability. We’ve all seen that movie before. It was never the plot that was going to make the movie worthwhile, though. That will always be the job of humor.
“Playing with Fire” may have been a movie with humor made for 12-year-old boys, but I will admit with no shame that there was at least one 18-year-old girl in the theater laughing harder than probably all the other kids in the audience. For me, the best part of the movie was hands down Keegan-Michael Key’s portrayal of Mark. I’m not sure if it was the hilarious kissing-up nature of his character towards Cena’s character or the exaggerated exasperation he had towards the kids in the movie, but nearly all of his lines had me laughing. Sidenote — there are bloopers at the end of the movie, most of which feature Key’s natural hilarity and unfortunate (but priceless) tendency for slapstick humor.
There were low points in the film, too. Jake and Amy’s (Judy Greer, “13 Going on 30”) relationship is unnecessary and forced. The three kids do a mostly great job of balancing being funny and being slightly annoying (like all kids), but Brynn (Brianna Hildebrand, “Deadpool”), left something to be desired. Her character got on my nerves more often than not, and her warming up to Jake was not as gradual as it should have been to make it believable. The first two days she did everything she could to get on his nerves, and then the next two she made a complete 180. It didn’t feel realistic.
Despite those flaws, though, the movie is worth seeing. However, I’m not sure if the movie theater is a necessary component of its viewing experience. Frankly, this is the kind of movie that you want to watch with your wife and kids. There’s something about the overused, cheesy moral of the story that makes you want to see it in your pajamas on your sofa and with your family, even though you may want to roll your eyes at it and claim that you’re too old for a movie like this. You can say whatever you want to preserve your reputation, but chances are, “Playing with Fire” will make you laugh a lot and will have you turning the television off with a genuine, satisfied smile.