Playing with Fire

image for Playing with Fire

Short takes

Not suitable under 5; parental guidance to 8 (Death of parents)

classification logo

This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Playing with Fire
  • a review of Playing with Fire completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 16 December 2019.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 5 Not suitable due to theme of parental death.
Children aged 5–8 Parental guidance recommended due to theme of parental death.
Children over the age of 8 Ok for this age group.

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines. Other classification advice (OC) is provided where the Australian film classification is not available.

Name of movie: Playing with Fire
Classification: PG
Consumer advice lines: Mild themes and crude humour
Length: 96 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

It is a challenging and crucial time for Californian Superintendent, ‘Supe’ Jake Carson (John Cena), a second-generation elite smoke-jumping squad leader. Several members of Jake’s firefighting team have abandoned him to join more prestigious squads, just when his depot is to be inspected of by the soon retiring Commander (Dennis Heysbert) and he hopes to be promoted. To make things more complicated, Jake rescues three siblings from a burning cabin and agrees to put them up at the depot until their parents – allegedly away on a holiday – pick them up. It is not long until smart and inquisitive teen Brynn (Brianna Hildebrand), wild and curious tween Will (Christian Convery), and toddler Zoe (Finley Rose Slater) turn the fire depot upside down. As Jake, Mark (Keegan-Michael Key), Rodrigo (John Leguizamo), and ‘Axe’ (Tyler Mane) get to know and cherish the siblings, and learn about their personal tragedy (their parents in fact died in an accident two years prior and they are on the run from child protection services who want to split them up into different families), a one-for-all, all-for-one team spirit and intergenerational friendships are formed, and it becomes clear what is truly important in life.


Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Loss/death of parents; bravery; importance of family; friendship; fostering/adopting children.

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is some violence in this movie including:

  • some action violence that sees characters in mild pain but not seriously harmed, for example, Axe gets angry at Rodrigo and throws him against a wall.
  • Jake is banged several times against a cabin ceiling in an unsuccessful attempt to airlift him out.
  • some scenes of threatened violence, including Axe – who never lets go off his fire fighter axe – uses his impressive stature and grizzly demeanour to scare people. It becomes clear though that he is in fact a very gentle guy who looks out for the people he cares about.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of five, including the following:

  • Jake reveals that his mother died when he was very young, and his father, a smoke jumper legend, died a tragic, heroic death during one of his missions when Jake was a young boy.
  • It is revealed that the siblings' parents died two years prior. No details of their death are provided.
  • The passing of parents is not shown or portrayed in flashbacks but only referenced in conversations. Affected characters are seen sad and with tears in their eyes but they don't lose composure and they are not shown in despair or acute distress.
  • In an attempt to run away from the authorities Brynn and her siblings nearly have a fatal accident when the car they’ve stolen goes over a cliff, however, the children are saved just in time.
  • Siblings are air lifted from a burning building.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes and scary visual images, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged five to eight, including the following:

  • It is likely that children aged five to eight may be disturbed over the thought that both Jake's and the siblings' parents have died premature deaths.

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged eight to thirteen, including the following:

  • Nothing of additional concern.

Product placement

The following products are displayed or used in this movie:

  • Spam (tinned meat).

Sexual references

There are some sexual references in this movie, including:

  • Mark has a pin up poster next to his bunk bed showing a lady revealing her bare back and behind. He quickly rips the poster down when the children see it.
  • A romance is developing between Jake and Dr. Amy Hicks (Judy Greer), a local scientist, and they are seen kissing once.
  • Brynn suggests that Jake should ask Dr. Hicks to spend the night at the depot to which Jake responds that this would be inappropriate. Brynn points out that she meant that Dr. Hicks can sleep in one of the spare bunks.

Nudity and sexual activity

There is some nudity and sexual activity in this movie, including:

  • Mark's pin up poster showing a lady revealing her bare back and behind (see above).
  • Jake is seen topless a few times.

Use of substances

There is some use of substances in this movie, including:

  • There is one indication that the adults have some wine over dinner.

Coarse language

  • None noted.

In a nutshell

Playing with Fire is an action comedy packed with crude and slapstick humour, suitable for families with slightly older children. The underlying theme of losing parents – both Jake's and the siblings' parents have died – warrants the movie unsuitable for children under 5 and parental guidance is recommended for children to 8.

The main messages from this movie are that one learns the most valuable lessons when pushed out of one's comfort zone and that family and friendship are the most valuable goods in life.

Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • bravery
  • helping one another
  • friendship
  • fighting for one's family
  • honesty
  • self-reflection
  • embracing one's inner child even if you are a grown man
  • feeling joy as you do something nice for someone else
  • accepting help from others.

This movie could also give parents the opportunity to discuss with their children attitudes and behaviours, and their real-life consequences, such as:

  • trying to live up to someone else's (for example a parent's) expectation and thereby losing sight of ones own dreams.
  • reckless and impulsive behaviour (in an attempt to run away from the authorities Brynn and her siblings nearly have a fatal accident).
  • judging a book by its cover: a first impression of a person is usually only half of the picture: Straight-laced, by-the-book dutiful, strong Jake has a vulnerable and insecure side; silent grumpy-looking Axe shows his soft and caring nature.