Fired Up

Reviewed By William Goss
Posted 02/21/09 00:22:16

"A Little Pep Squad In Its Step... Uh, Squad"
3 stars (Average)

It takes a man to admit when he’s wrong, and when I was forced to endure the trailer for 'Fired Up!' back in November, I was convinced that it was a thuddingly shallow PG-13 cheerleading comedy that was nine years too late for its own good. And you know what? I was right on all of those counts. But 'Fired Up!' also happens to be one thing I wasn’t counting on: fairly amusing.

When Nick and Shawn (Eric Christian Olsen and Nicholas D’Agosto) skip out on football camp in pursuit of a cheerleading paradise, they come across the expected bevy of babes – who are themselves as ogled as much by our leads as the camera – and these babes do indeed worship that turn-of-the-millennium pop staple, Bring It On, quoting it side by side, word for word, when not running their routines. And whereas that film’s cast encouraged one another to be aggressive, b-e aggressive, Fired Up! instead opts for a go-for-broke comedic charm that may instead have been harnessed in by its PG-13 rating from being too aggressive for its own good (which is not to argue against the gratuitous nudity that this film otherwise pines for, but it honestly didn’t make Sex Drive or College any funnier).

It’s a by-the-book desire-and-deceit formula, complete with one of those climactic championships, but one for the southern Illinois regional competition as opposed to nationals. It’s a film that flaunts catchphrases and mantras as much as it mocks them; one character lives by the wisdom of John Lennon, while another dies at the threat of even knowing who John Lennon was (“What am I, in my fifties?”). The boyfriend (David Walton) of the team captain/love interest (Sarah Roemer) is a pre-med jerk, sure, but he looks like Paul F. Tompkins, acts like Dane Cook, and relishes 90’s alt-rock to the point of claiming that one-hit wonder Chumbawumba is “the soundtrack to my life!” (This is the same guy who insists on giving girlfriend Carly nicknames like “Carlito’s Way”.)

It’s a bull-headed comedy that doesn’t subscribe to its own bull, that doesn’t care that its teen horndogs are in fact played by real-life thirtysomethings, and that knows how to please the middle school audience that’s tickled by even the vaguest innuendo and those old enough to know that “F.U.” does not spell “Fired Up” and then laugh when Nick and Shawn make that same observation. Not all of the running gags and non sequiturs work, but most of them do, thanks to Olson and D’Agosto’s snappy rapport and the why-not attitude of director Will Gluck and writer Freedom Jones. There may be an overload of pop culture references both obvious and obscure, and in an odd way, Fired Up! almost seems like a ready-made time capsule for our era – not an ideal one, mind you, but as self-effacing and self-aware and self-consuming as anything that might glue this generation to YouTube for hours on end (and of all the ADR lines, a Hamlet 2 reference dies the swiftest death; Gluck’s credit as “Man at Play #1” seems to be the lone excuse for its existence).

During the end credits, the cheer camp coach played by John Michael Higgins makes a crack about how if people were to applaud mediocrity, they could stand around a Ford Focus and clap. Well, not to reward lukewarm laughs, but I’d rather give this sporadically inspired charmer my modest cheers than whatever Friedberg/Seltzer are currently cranking out. It’s safe to say that 'Fired Up!' is probably the smartest stupid surprise since 'The House Bunny', and no, I’m not just saying that because the keys to my Focus are resting in my pocket.

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