MOVIE REVIEW: Playing with Fire

While it may be a goofy kids’ flick, it's actually funnier—and even a bit deeper—than its trailers suggest.

By Focus on the Family Singapore | 20 January 2020

Jake Carson is a no-nonsense, by-the-book kind of guy, and he leads his squad of smoke jumpers with a military precision that would make George S. Patton blush.

“We must be at our very best at every second of every day,” is the mantra he pounds into his fellow firefighting smoke jumpers. And for good reason: If you parachute into a blazing forest fire and miss your mark by a just a few feet, or if you lose sight of your training for just a few seconds, then many lives—including your own—could be lost.

Jake was raised in a smoke-jumper station house, by a smoke-jumper superintendent. He was raised to be exactly who he is, doing exactly what he does: It’s his calling and his passion. And the only small deviation that could possibly happen in the near future is the possibility of becoming Division Commander, a dream that he shared with his deceased father.

One thing that Jake is completely unprepared for, however, is dealing with children. They’re like tiny wildfires with tiny brains—unpredictable and destructive. They’re deadly, because they can cause you to take your eyes off your goals.

And it just so happens that children have now overrun Jake Carson’s fire station. After a nearby forest fire burned down a family cabin, Jake was barely able to pull the three kids—teen Brynn, and her younger siblings Will and Zoey—to safety. But now, weather conditions have forced the squad back to base. And according to the Safe Haven Law, the kids must go with them until their parents or state authorities can arrive.

So now the famous and stalwart Jake Carson is facing his biggest challenge yet—babysitting!


Things get quite silly at times, but it’s clear that Playing With Fire values the heroism and sacrifices of firefighters. Amid its slapstick shenanigans, the film also displays a thoughtful side when it addresses parenting.

For instance, Will asks Jake to tell him a story before bed. Jake, unaccustomed to such routine parental duties, tenderly recounts a story about his single-parent dad. The story illustrates the love that Jake’s dad communicated, in spite of his own feelings of inadequacy.

[Spoiler Warning] Eventually, both Brynn and Will open up to Jake about their own parents’ death, as well as their struggles to run from authorities so that they can stay together as a family unit. Jake becomes a father figure for the kids, even though he fears that actually being a father would lessen his ability to do his job.


We see Jake with his shirt off a few times and once in the shower, where we see him from the waist up. He’s very muscular—something that a local female scientist named Dr. Amy Hix makes note of with appreciation when she sees him in a different scene.

When the kids move temporarily into the fire station bunk house, young Will spots a bikini-girl poster hanging by one of the bunks.

There’s an obvious attraction between Jake and Dr. Hix. And Brynn suggests that Jake invite Amy to spend the night at the station after she comes over for dinner. To his credit, Jake says that choice would be inappropriate.


Violence in the movie consists of mostly the slapstick, adults-getting-thumped variety. Jake is comically slammed around inside a burning building, for instance, when a rookie helicopter pilot misunderstands his command and prematurely tries to lift Jake up by an attached cable.

Firemen get slammed into walls and have bunk beds (and other things collapse) on them—slapstick incidents usually caused by the kids in one way or another. And the kids manage to create trouble in other ways too; Young Will, for instance, grabs a couple of flare guns. Mistakenly thinking that they’re NERF guns, he fires them inside the station. The flares ricochet off the walls, hit people and set someone on fire.

Some of the actions enter into the danger zone. Brynn steals an ATV, running into Jake with the vehicle and sending him flying when he tries to halt her progress. Several scenes also involve raging forest fires that surround people in their vehicles.


Will finds a bottle of booze in the bunkhouse. One of the firefighters snatches it up quickly; he says it isn’t his, but adds that he’d “take care of it” anyway.


The kids are rebellious sorts who pay no heed to the instructions given by adults. In fact, teen Brynn and tween Will both openly defy the requests levelled in their direction. Their defiance—ranging from openly lying and causing havoc, to stealing keys and vehicles—is played for laughs.


Playing With Fire may be a goofy kids’ flick but it is actually funnier—and even a bit deeper—than it appears to be in its trailers. Actor Keegan-Michael Key (of Key & Peele fame) knows how to tickle a funny bone. And even when the scripted stuff isn’t particularly chuckle-worthy, he’s able to at least leave you grinning. And the rest of this movie, and its cast, works hard to follow that lead.

"These reviews are meant to help parents determine whether a movie is appropriate for their children, and are not an endorsement by Focus on the Family Singapore."

This review was adapted from Plugged In: the entertainment guide your family needs to make family appropriate decisions through movie reviews, book reviews, TV reviews, and more.



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