PG, for comic mischief. Also, there's a little tiny teeny bit of innuendo. Oh, and a handful of dead parents. I suppose that you could find the movie terrifying if you are afraid of fires, considering that the movie surrounds a group of smokejumpers that constantly talk about fires. But let's be honest: this is a movie for little kids who like potty humor. PG.
DIRECTOR: Andy Fickman
I told myself that I wasn't going to watch this. I knew that, if I watched this, I would have to write a movie about it. I mean, everything about the trailer just screamed "Don't watch this." Based on the fact that I'm writing about this movie, I watched it. Dominos gave us a month free of EpixNow, without needing a credit card! Do you understand the temptation? Now, EpixNow has a very odd selection of films on it. There might be one movie that I haven't seen that I want to see on there. But we had family movie night and a brand new streaming service. It was my wife's pick that night, and we may have found her favorite kid subgenre film: the burly rugged man takes care of adorably, yet mischievous kids movie.
I don't know what about this genre gets my wife cracking up. I mean, if we all had to pin down the formula for this kind of movie (like The Pacifier and The Tooth Fairy), we get the irony that comes out of the juxtaposition of a wrestler taking care of tiny things. It's why my brain spends an extra two seconds looking at the videos on Facebook of people making tiny food. We acknowledge the disparate nature of what we normally see to what we're seeing now. But typically, these movies are...not good. While I'm not going to preach Playing with Fire because a lot of it is...not good, I have to say that I enjoyed this one more than others. I almost can't tell you why. The first act of this movie is a chore. It's a very painful experience. I was talking about this movie with my students and they asked me why the first part was so painful. My answer initially was because all of these movies have to prove what a macho man the male protagonist is. Many children's movies, in particularly live action children's movies, need to paint with a wide brush. There's no room for subtlety.
But I think it goes deeper into the movie than that. Kids come to the movie for laughs. I mean, there's probably a good reason that there aren't a ton of hardcore dramas aimed at five-year-olds. The attention span of children is really, really short. So if a kid isn't laughing in minute one, there's a real problem in the film. What this means is that there's no real warm up act. Comedy isn't really earned in children's movies. I'm not saying that the adult oriented comedy isn't shamless. They often are. But everything in the kid's comedy has to be over the top. It's the reason that my kids tell jokes really loudly. Most of my son's "jokes" involve screaming and running away. The style of humor in these kinds of movies is the same thing. For me, that's more annoying than it is funny. I recently wrote about what works for the Home Alone movies and that is that it doesn't really pander. When Home Alone resorts to physical humor, we know and understand the dynamics of everything that is going on. In movies like Playing with Fire, the movie gets so saturated with physical jokes that the damage really doesn't matter. For example, there's a kind of funny bit when Supe gets knocked around by a helicopter in a house. The movie states multiple times that Supe might be one of the most talented smokejumpers around, but this scene contradicts that notion with his incompetence. (Admittedly, it's not his fault, but the idea still stands.) This scene is added to lighten a dramatic scene. But this moment downplays the trauma that he'll go through later.
But remember when I said that this one wasn't bad? I mean, sure, a lot of that comes from the idea that I had criminally low expectations for this movie. I like John Cena, but I don't think that this is the one that was going to show off his nuance. (I sarcastically imply that The Marine is the movie that did that.) Yeah, there's a lot of dumb jokes in the movie, coupled with the idea that these kids were full on rotten. I mean, I will quickly state that I don't understand why the kids are so rotten in this one. It is really hard to sympathize with the kids when they almost seem to go out of their way to make this place Hell. But the second the movie starts to be vulnerable, that's when the movie kind of gets good. So if anything, this movie pulls and inverted Home Alone. The movie tortures Supe and his men for the first 40% of the movie. It's almost quit worthy. But once they undergo this crucible, the movie oddly becomes about building relationships. Instead of making the physical humor last throughout the film (admittedly, there is still SOME physical humor in the final two acts), it focuses on the shifting of personalities. I mean, I'm giving the movie a lot of credit, giving this much analysis to it, but it kinda sorta deserves it.
It's so funny that the movie finds its heart in My Little Pony. Yeah, it feels like low hanging fruit. But the fact that all these manly men start enjoying what the kids enjoy makes the meaning behind it all the more valuable. It all culminates in a joint birthday party for all of the kids. These closed-off titans express vulnerability and that party is a celebration of that vulnerability. The joke is that John Cena is wearing a too small My Little Pony Princess Celestia shirt. But wearing that shirt is about showing that people don't have to be one thing. I mean, I'm really reading into it, but it doesn't mean it isn't there. I can't just apply critical thinking to stuff that is problematic. If a story has a good message, even accidentally, I kind of appreciate it. Sure, it's very silly to think that Supe should be adopting kids or would even be able to adopt kids, but it makes for a nice neat wrapping.
I'm also going to say that Keegan-Michael Key can rescue any silly situation. He's got a pretty weak script, but delivers on each and every delivery. Sure, John Leguizamo is pretty great. But Key gives each scene he's in some degree of comic authenticity. It's pretty solid.
Listen, Playing with Fire won't blow any minds. I think I appreciated it more because I was able to sit down and watch a movie with my family. Going in with low expectations is a good idea, but it doesn't make or break a movie that is mostly pretty okay.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.