Playing with Fire (2019 film)

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Playing with Fire
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAndy Fickman
Screenplay by
Story byDan Ewen
Produced by
CinematographyDean Semler
Edited byElísabet Ronaldsdóttir
Music byNathan Wang
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • November 8, 2019 (2019-11-08)
Running time
96 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$29.9 million[1]
Box office$69.4 million[1]

Playing with Fire is a 2019 American family comedy film directed by Andy Fickman from a screenplay by Dan Ewen and Matt Lieberman based on a story by Ewen. The film stars John Cena, Keegan-Michael Key, John Leguizamo, Brianna Hildebrand, Dennis Haysbert, and Judy Greer. It tells the story of a group of smokejumpers who must watch over three children who they rescued from a burning cabin until child services arrives.

The film was theatrically released by Paramount Pictures on November 8, 2019, in the United States. It is the third Walden Media film to be produced by Nickelodeon Movies after Charlotte's Web and Dora and the Lost City of Gold (the latter was also released in 2019). The film grossed $68 million worldwide with a budget of $29 million, and received mostly negative reviews from critics.


Superintendent Jake Carson is the commanding officer of a group of smokejumpers in the remote California woodlands. Carson is capable in a crisis and takes tremendous pride in his work, diving into dangerous situations to rescue civilians alongside his team Mark Rogers, Rodrigo Torres, and "Axe".

After rescuing three children from a burning cabin, Carson is contacted by Division Commander Richards. Richards praises his work and shortlists him to be his replacement, Carson's dream job.

Rogers warns Carson they are responsible for the children's welfare (15-year-old Brynn, 10-year-old Will, and 3-year-old (later 4-year-old) Zoey) under the "Safe Haven Laws", requiring law enforcement and first responders to care for children until they are released to a parent or guardian. He leaves a voicemail for the children's mother who texts back saying that they are on their way. Carson's attempts to complete his application for division commander are undermined by the children running haywire around the station, and the arrival of his ex, local environmentalist Dr. Amy Hicks who protests the smokejumpers taking water from endangered toad habitats to fight fires. She refuses Carson's attempt to offload the children onto her.

Despite the mayhem, the rest of the smokejumpers begin to bond with the children: toddler Zoey warms up to the brutish Axe and Torres teaches Will how to navigate dangerous situations. Brynn pays lip service to Rogers' admiration of Carson, then stages an escape on the station's ATV, spilling oil and slashing tires to prevent chase. Carson catches them by off-roading on a little girl's bike, cornering the children on a dirt road.

Will prompts Brynn to admit they are orphans on the run from foster care, avoiding their separation. The text messages were from Brynn herself. The group camp out overnight and Carson promises to hold off calling Child Services until after Zoey's 4th birthday in two days.

The group go all out preparing Zoey's birthday, and the four smokejumpers buy presents for Brynn and Will as well. Carson then tells Will a bedtime story about a yeti who was married to his job, had a son and then died on the job because he was distracted by having a family. Brynn and Hicks are both touched by the thinly veiled story of Carson's life. The overboard birthday party is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of both Richards and Child Services. The children flee in Richards' car, running it off the road right on a cliff. Brynn gets trapped in her seat belt. Carson parachutes down to rescue them and with Will's help, he frees Brynn before the car rolls off the cliff.

Back at the station, Hicks and the other smokejumpers bid an emotional farewell to the children. Richards tells Carson that family can be a source of support and that there is more to life than working. Inspired, Carson refuses to release the children to Child Services under the Safe Haven laws and proposes a plan to adopt all three of them.

Sometime later, Carson and Hicks get married with the smokejumpers and their adopted children in attendance.


  • John Cena as Jake "Supe" Carson, a smokejumper who is the son of late Dan Carson.
  • Keegan-Michael Key as Mark Rogers, a smokejumper who is loyal to Jake.
  • John Leguizamo as Rodrigo Torres, a nervy and neurotic smokejumper.
  • Brianna Hildebrand as Brynn, a 15-year-old girl who is rescued from a burning cabin by Jake alongside her siblings.
  • Dennis Haysbert as Commander Richards, the superior of Jake.
  • Judy Greer as Dr. Amy Hicks, an environmentalist who is Jake's former date
  • Tyler Mane as Axe, a huge and mute smokejumper who carries his fireman's pulaski everywhere.
  • Christian Convery as Will, Brynn's younger 10-year-old brother
  • Finley Rose Slater as Zoey, Brynn's younger 3-year-old (later 4-year-old) sister
  • Daniel Cudmore as Burly Smoke Jumper #1
  • Tom Europe as Burly Smoke Jumper #2
  • Chris Webb as Burly Smoke Jumper #3
  • Brad Kelly as Burly Smoke Jumper #4
  • Lynda Boyd as Patty
  • Jessica Garcie as Scared Mom
  • Kurt Long as Scared Dad
  • Shelby Wulfert as Shana Hiatt
  • Nova and Kingsly as Masher, Jake's pet dog


The film was announced in October 2018 when John Cena was cast to star in the film.[2] Andy Fickman was hired to direct the next month.[3]

By January 2019, Brianna Hildebrand, Judy Greer, Keegan-Michael Key, Edoardo Carfora, Christian Convery, and John Leguizamo joined the cast.[4][5][6] Rob Gronkowski was offered a role in the film but turned it down due to scheduling conflicts.[7] Joe Manganiello was cast but was cut from the film.[8]

Filming began on February 4, 2019, in Burnaby, British Columbia, and concluded on March 29.[9] Visual effects and animation were done in post-production by Industrial Light & Magic.[10]


The film was originally set to be released on March 20, 2020, but it was later moved up to November 8, 2019, taking over the original release date of Sonic the Hedgehog, which was later delayed to February 14, 2020.[11][12]


Box office[edit]

Playing with Fire grossed $44.5 million in the United States and Canada, and $24.2 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $68.6 million.[1]

In the United States and Canada, the film was released alongside Doctor Sleep, Midway and Last Christmas, and was projected to gross $7–10 million from 3,125 theaters in its opening weekend.[13] It made $3.6 million on its first day, including $500,000 from Thursday night previews. It went on to debut to $12.8 million, beating projections, and also finishing third at the box office.[14] In its second weekend the film made $8.6 million, finishing fourth behind Ford v Ferrari, Midway and Charlie's Angels.[15]

Critical response[edit]

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 24% based on 76 reviews, with an average rating of 4.1/10.[16] Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 24 out of 100, based on 14 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews."[17] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale, while those surveyed at PostTrak gave it an average 2.5 out of 5 stars.[14]

Wendy Ide for The Observer gave the film one star, describing the premise as "beyond inept" and calling it "(a) late contender for the worst movie of the year".[18]


  1. ^ a b c "Playing with Fire (2019)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved February 21, 2020.
  2. ^ John Cena to Star in ‘Playing With Fire’ for Paramount Players (EXCLUSIVE)
  3. ^ Andy Fickman Signs on to Direct ‘Playing With Fire’ Starring John Cena (EXCLUSIVE)
  4. ^ 'Deadpool' Actress Brianna Hildebrand Joins John Cena in 'Playing With Fire' (Exclusive)
  5. ^ Judy Greer Joins Paramount Players’ ‘Playing With Fire’ Opposite John Cena
  6. ^ Keegan-Michael Key, John Leguizamo Joining John Cena in 'Playing with Fire' (Exclusive)
  7. ^ For Rob Gronkowski, Hollywood Awaits. Can He Make It There?
  8. ^ Agar, Chris (January 21, 2020). "Playing With Fire Deleted Scene: John Cena Should Be Division Commander". Retrieved January 1, 2022.
  9. ^ Filming in Vancouver: Katie Holmes, John Cena, A Million Little Things, and more
  10. ^ "Playing With Fire Credits". Industrial Light & Magic. Archived from the original on February 18, 2020. Retrieved January 17, 2021.
  11. ^ Paramount Dates ‘Crawl’ & ‘Playing With Fire’, Moves ‘Loud House’ Off Schedule
  12. ^ ‘A Quiet Place 2’ Going Earlier In 2020, ‘Playing With Fire’ Takes Over ‘Sonic’s November Spot: Paramount Release Date Changes
  13. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (November 8, 2019). "'Doctor Sleep' Eyes $25M-$30M Box Office Start, Will Turn Out Lights On 'Terminator: Dark Fate'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved November 8, 2019.
  14. ^ a b D'Alessandro, Anthony (November 10, 2019). "How 'Doctor Sleep' Went Into A Coma At The B.O. With Dreary $14M+ Opening, Following Surprise $17M+ Attack By 'Midway' – Update". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved November 10, 2019.
  15. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (November 17, 2019). "'Ford v Ferrari' Cruising To $30M+, 'Charlie's Angels' Kicked Out Of Heaven With $8M+ Start". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved November 17, 2019.
  16. ^ "Playing With Fire (2019)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved November 29, 2022.
  17. ^ "Playing with Fire (2019) Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved November 8, 2019.
  18. ^ Ide, Wendy (December 29, 2019). "Playing With Fire review – so unfunny it will extinguish your will to live". The Observer.

External links[edit]