Playing With Fire (PG, 96 mins)

Director: Andy Fickman

Stars: John Cena, Keegan-Michael Key, John Leguizamo

2 stars

Most muscular action stars at one time or another take the plunge into kid-skewing comedy. Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson have done their time, so, with Mark Wahlberg presumably busy, wrestler John Cena has been drafted in to Playing With Fire as the chief of a group of super-macho California firefighters.

When they rescue three youngsters from a burning cabin, they’re called on to look after them until their parents or the authorities can sort out the situation. Meanwhile, in that plot development so beloved of many a hackneyed sitcom, the commander is coming to the station for an inspection, with Cena possibly in line to take over from him following his imminent retirement.

The ensuing nonsense, where manly men are flummoxed by uncontrollable moppets, harks back to the likes of Kindergarten Cop or Three Men and a Baby. In other words, it feels three decades out of date, as the bruising slapstick plays up their manliness, the better to emphasise their total inability to cope. It’s a very curious concoction, with the tone of a children's film, yet young children may struggle to be interested in the firefighting scenario.

The result is an over the top family comedy, buzzing with the sugar-high energy of a CBBC sitcom – characters make a whizzing noise when they enter the frame, for goodness’ sake. It’s raucous, noisy and daft, very much intended for the CBBC/Nickelodeon demographic.

Most jokes are a variation on the tough guy not able to handle the brazen attitude of the kids, everything else is poop gags. You can predict that there will be fallouts, bonding, sentimentality, maybe even a fire or other perilous event to contend with before everything is settled.

Cena is no Arnie, but he has shown in the past that he can cope with this kind of stuff. But he’s better deadpan, whereas the whizz-bang nature of this asks a bit much of him. At least we’ve got the comic chops of Keegan-Michael Key to just about keep it tolerable for grown-ups, because this is basically a live action cartoon, little of it well thought out or executed, but maybe a scream if you’re 6¾.