Talk about fighting fire with fire. A small company of brave, resilient and resourceful specialist firefighters – known as smokejumpers – are no match for the three brave, resilient and resourceful orphan children they rescue.
I should explain that smokejumpers are highly trained men and women who provide the initial attack on wildfires by parachuting into remote and rugged terrain. They are regarded as the elite in their field. In this case, we are in Redding, California.
Captain Mark Rogers (Keegan-Michael Key), Lieutenant Rodrigo Torres (John Leguizamo) and Axe (Tyler Mane) and their superintendent Jake Carson (John Cena) rescue the trio from a cabin fire. But all their training hasn’t prepared them for what happens next.
California’s Safe Haven Law means the men have no choice but to keep watch over the kids. Now reduced to the role of babysitters, the quartet is about to learn that children are actually much like fires – wild and unpredictable. The men take the kids back to their depot, which is renowned for its strict regime and capable leadership. It was once run by Carson’s father, the late Chief Dan Carson, the most badass firefighter of all time … before he met his untimely demise in … you guessed it, a fire. His is a legacy that both burdens and inspires Jake … and now he’s been recommended to replace the Commander, a position he has worked hard for. Only with the arrival of the children, everything is about to go pear-shaped.
The screenplay is by Dan Ewen and Matt Lieberman (The Addams Family), with direction from Andy Fickman (Race to Witch Mountain).
After an inauspicious, deliberately overacted start, which was oh so corny, I had my doubts. But, fortunately, Playing with Fire really came into its own once the youngsters were saved by the he-man fire superintendent. All three of the kids are delightful, led by the cutest three-year-old, Zoey (Finley Rose Slater). Each is well realised. Of course, it is their interactions with the fireys that make the movie.
The eldest, 16-year-old Brynn (Brianna Hildebrand), is smart and stoic, the boy, Will, 10 (Christian Convery), is adventurous and up for anything, while his younger sister, gives sentimentality the best working over. They, of course, prove quite a handful for the super who is all business and runs a tight station. He and each of his men also have distinct personas, which they play up for all they are worth. Although he is not The Rock, a ripped Cena still knows how to cash in on the biggest fish-out-of-water role (and lead) in the film.
A transparent romance – in which the uptight, all-at-sea head honcho is encouraged to let down his guard with field biologist Dr Amy Hicks (Judy Greer) – all but completes the equation. There is also a large drooling dog that bonds with the tiny tot. Although I cringed at some of what I was being fed (sure it is fantasy land – exaggerated and contrived), in large measure I smiled, laughed … and even shed tears.
Playing with Fire is a movie which hits its target audience – young families – with enough sugar and spice and all things nice to win the day. Rated PG.
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Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.