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 ‘Playing with Fire’is a slapstick comedy that most children (and even parents) will love.

Jake Carson is a straight-laced superintendent of a group of smokejumpers—elite firefighters who parachute into wildfires to rescue the stranded and save houses from destruction.

He’s never met a joke he thought was funny. He’s also never met a child he thought was cute.

For the single Carson, the meaning of life is smokejumping and climbing the career ladder. Dating is a waste of time. So are children. 

But then Carson and his crew rescue three kids from a cabin in the middle of the forest.

Their parents are away for the night, which means they’ll have to eat dinner and sleep back at the fire station.

Carson quickly sets the ground rules: “This depot is not a playground.”

Unfortunately for Carson, these kids aren’t the sit-down-and-be-quiet type. One is an energetic little girl. The other is a curious get-into-everything boy. And the third is a wise-cracking teenager. 

Can Carson survive the night? Or will these three children teach him how to laugh—and perhaps even how to love?

Now in theaters, the children’s comedy Playing with Fire (PG) stars pro wrestler John Cena (Ferdinand) as Carson; Keegan-Michael Key (The Lion King, 2019) as Mark, a smokejumper; John Leguizamo (Ice Age series) as Rodrigo, another smokejumper; and Judy Greer (Ant-Man) as Carson’s romantic interest, Amy Hicks.

Playing with Fire is a slapstick comedy film in the same genre as Home Alone and Peter Rabbit—but with far less violence. And unlike Home Alone, it contains no coarse language. Most kids will love it.

Thankfully, it’s also a movie that outperforms its trailer. It contains plenty of laughs for mom and dad. Even better, it has a family-centric plot—and a great foster care angle.

Key and Rodrigo are the funniest, but Cena provides a few chuckles, too.

Along the way, moviegoers learn about smokejumpers. (Such as: Did you know there are only about 330 of them in the U.S.?)

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

(Scale key: none, minimal, moderate, extreme)


Minimal. Children are trapped in a cabin that’s on fire. (They’re quickly rescued.) A laughing toddler grabs a nail gun and starts shooting it at a man. (It’s played for laughs.) An automobile, driven by a teen girl, nearly falls off the side of a cliff. (She and the passengers are rescued.)


Minimal. A married woman jokes about Carson being attractive. (“My husband sells insurance,” she says. “Take me with you.”) The muscular Carson (Cena) is seen two or three times without his shirt. (He quickly puts a shirt on each time.) A man is called a “stud.” The children arrange for Carson and Hicks to have a date. (The movie ends with a kiss and them marrying.)

Coarse Language


Other Positive Elements

Even though the film is a comedy, we see the heroics of smokejumpers on display.

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

We see a bottle of alcohol. A few of the men drink the alcohol in small kiddie cups. (It becomes a running joke.) But they don’t become drunk. We learn that some of the characters (including Carson) lost their parents at a young age. We see a wine bottle emoji.  

Life Lessons

Work isn’t the meaning of life: At one point, Carson asks, rhetorically, “Without this job, who am I?” Eventually, he learns that friends and family are more important.

The world needs first responders: As long as we’re building civilizations near forests, we need heroes like Carson and his men.   

Children are a blessing: It takes a while, but Cena finally discovers this.


Playing with Fire was produced in partnership with Nickelodeon Movies—a company known more for goofiness than emotional-laden stories.

This film, though, hits the bullseye on a few key messages. Like the priority of family. And the blessings of childrearing. And the importance of a mom and a dad.

It’s not a classic like Home Alone, but thanks to a family-friendly script—it’s clean enough for all of my young children—it may be worth a trip to the theater.

Final Verdict

Most critics are panning this film, but I suspect they didn’t watch it with a kid. Maybe they’re just like Carson—and need to loosen up.

The humor is truly funny, and its stays in appropriate territory. I enjoyed it.

Discussion Questions

1. Do you know of any first responders who deserve your prayer and thanks?

2. What is the film’s message about children? About foster care?

3. Did Carson have the wrong view of life and work? Why or why not?

4. What caused Carson to change his mind about the children?

Entertainment rating: 4 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Playing With Fire is rated PG for rude humor, some suggestive material and mild peril.