Playing With Fire review – firefighters v kids comedy fails to ignite

<span>Photograph: Doane Gregory/Paramount</span>
Photograph: Doane Gregory/Paramount

Ex-WWE wrestler John Cena stars in this pretty ropey piece of mainstream nontertainment, about Jake “Supe” Carson, lovable but uptight, who runs a crew of dedicated firefighters in California called “smoke jumpers” who ’copter into remote terrain to tackle any blaze. His goofy comrades are Mark (Keegan-Michel Key), Rodrigo (John Leguizimo) and Axe (Tyler Mane).

Things go sideways when Supe and the gang rescue a bunch of unattended kids from a burning house: mouthy teen Brynn (Brianna Hildebrand), kid brother Will (Christian Convery) and baby sister Zoey (Finley Rose Slater). Then he and his bros have to look after them back at their man-cave fire station until their parents arrive. The kids sweetly cause anarchy, letting off hoses etc, and clueless bachelor Supe figures they need some maternal authority, so he calls in local naturalist Dr Amy Hicks (Judy Greer) with whom he is shyly in love.

The whole thing is shot and lit in that dull flat way that is mandatory for Hollywood family comedies, and the script is mainly dull, though I concede Key has some nice lines as he gets cross with Brynn’s sarcastic attitude (although for a wised-up teenager, she doesn’t comment on the cause of all these forest fires they’re tackling).

And, considering it’s a vanilla family film, Cena is required to take his shirt off pretty much every five minutes, revealing his bulging and borderline-grotesque torso with veins the size of snakes squiggling up and down his forearms. As they used to say in Mad magazine: yecch.

• Playing With Fire is released in the UK on 26 December and in Australia on 1 January.