Fire­fighter com­edy fails to catch on

The Peterborough Examiner - - ARTS & LIFE - JANE HOR­WITZ

Play­ing With Fire

★1/2 (out of 4)

Star­ring John Cena, John Leguizamo and Kee­gan-Michael Key. Opens Fri­day ev­ery­where. 96 min­utes. G

The cre­ators of “Play­ing With Fire,” a clod­hop­ping com­edy about Cal­i­for­nia wild­fire “smoke jumpers,” built in lit­tle pauses after many of the film’s sight gags and ver­bal jokes, pre­sum­ably to ac­com­mo­date au­di­ence laugh­ter. Bad idea.

If the movie were show­ing at a drive-in, the only sound dur­ing those pauses would be crick­ets chirp­ing. In­side a theatre, only a few kids’ fleet­ing gig­gles — and the crunch­ing of pop­corn — fill the void.

With hor­rific wild­fires scorch­ing Cal­i­for­nia, the tim­ing of this fire­fighter com­edy also seems off. It might in­spire em­pa­thy, if only it were ac­tu­ally funny.

Direc­tor Andy Fick­man has mul­ti­ple TV cred­its as a pro­ducer and direc­tor, in­clud­ing the se­ries “Kevin Can Wait.” But if you want an in­di­ca­tion of his tal­ents on the big screen, look no fur­ther than “Parental Guid­ance” and “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.” In those ill-con­ceived farces, Fick­man demon­strated a blun­der­buss ap­proach to com­edy that lingers here like a dull ache. Nor is he helped by screen­writ­ers Dan Ewen and Matt Lieber­man, whose cu­tand-paste-style of screen­writ­ing bris­tles with nar­ra­tive hic­cups and con­ti­nu­ity er­rors.

WWE star-turned ac­tor John Cena, bring­ing his lik­able lug-with-a-heart-of-gold per­sona, plays Jake Car­son, the stoic, romantical­ly chal­lenged leader of a smoke-jump­ing sta­tion. Sev­eral of his men — they’re all men — de­camp to work for a more fa­mous com­man­der (Den­nis Hays­bert) at another de­pot. Jake, who’s in line for a big pro­mo­tion, must make do with a skele­ton crew, whose abil­ity to han­dle fire­fight­ing equip­ment, let alone ac­tual fires, seems hap­haz­ard at best.

Kee­gan-Michael Key plays Jake’s ob­se­quious yes-man; John Leguizamo his ner­vous chop­per pilot; and Tyler Mane is an axe-wield­ing, non­ver­bal giant.

The plot kicks in as Jake res­cues three chil­dren from a burn­ing cabin: a sar­cas­tic teen, her mis­chievous lit­tle brother and their tod­dler sis­ter (Brianna Hilde­brand, Chris­tian Con­very and Fin­ley Rose Slater, a par­tic­u­larly charm­less trio as di­rected here). Baby sis­ter has yet to be potty trained, which leads to a pro­tracted bit of toi­let hu­mour.

Need­less to say, all the afore­men­tioned con­trivances of plot end hap­pily. Even if the fine arts of cin­ema and com­edy are abused in “Play­ing With Fire,” the pain is brief, and dis­ap­pears like a puff of smoke.


In “Play­ing with Fire,” John Leguizamo, left, John Cena, Kee­gan-Michael Key and Tyler Mane must look after a tod­dler.

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