February 19, 2009

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Fired Up! (PG-13)
Two of the dude-iest football players from Gerald R. Ford High School chase girls all the way to cheerleading camp in Fired Up!, a Bring It On knockoff that is stupid fun in spite of itself.

Actually, in one scene of the movie, all the cheerleaders at cheer camp are watching Bring It On, reciting the dialogue Rocky Horror-style. Bring It On came out in the summer of 2000, long enough ago that its smirky little portrayal of perky but kick-ass cheerleaders could have become a touchstone of the cheer experience of thousands of current pom-pom-wavers. (And then there’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer — the movie came out in 1992 and the TV show started in 1997, meaning that the cheerleader as perky blonde warrior has been around for about as long as many of your modern cheerleaders have been alive.) Fired Up! creates the answer to all that, a world in which all of the cheerleaders are self-consciously no-nonsense Buffys or pushy uber-bitches. These are not the ditzy lightweights of 1980s-era teen movies. And if the cheerleaders are all driven and smart, guess who the fluff-heads get to be?

Meet football players Shawn (Nicholas D’Agosto) and Nick (Eric Christian Olsen). Sure, they rock on the field, but their purpose in life is loving and leaving as many girls as possible, as quickly as possible. When faced with spending two weeks with only their male teammates away at football camp, Nick and Shawn decide it is simply too much to ask (particularly since their teammates are shown as lugheads who collectively share one brain cell) and they decide to go to cheerleading camp instead. After getting in thanks to the machinations of Shawn’s requisite too-smart little sister Poppy (Juliette Goglia playing 14-going-on-40-something-Hollywood-super-agent), Nick and Shawn find themselves two of only a few straight men surrounded by hundreds of teenage girls “empowered” enough to want a meaningless fling as much as Nick and Shawn do. Only the laser-focused head cheerleader Carly (Sarah Roemer) seems to care that Shawn and Nick are making a mockery of cheer camp. She’s worried that their preoccupation with “getting some” will get in the way with their team’s chance to win the camp’s final competition.

Win or at least not come in last as they have every year.

Fired Up! is so crazy impressed with its own cleverness it is almost hard to watch at times. There is a running joke about a tertiary character who says shocking things (you’ll recognize her from the “I wanna cut the blonde one” line in the trailer, in reference to the leader of the ultimate Evil Team, the Panthers) and then follows the jarring silence (it’s not quite that record scratchy sound from every radio commercial, but almost) with “I’m just saying.” It is aggravating beyond belief in its cutesiness and yet I also wanted to see more of her. She is the epitome of this evil Barbie brand of cheerleader — all Wolverine-like claws beneath the girl-next-door-ness.

Nick and Shawn in particular speak in almost nothing but one-liners. It is as though their every response were crafted with the idea “what is the most writery, jokey thing I could say here.” And yet, sometimes it’s funny. Carly gets ready to cap a speech about going for broke with a philosphical quote, asking Shawn if he knows what John Lennon says. “No,” he answers. “Because I’m not in my 50s. I can ask my dad.” A line like that makes you want to hate it and yet I can’t help but smirk myself about its meta-statement on the absurdity of teen movies where the teens quote Lennon and listen to The Ramones (much like, actually, the Jesse Bradford character self-consciously does in Bring It On; on the movie’s commentary, there was some discussion about how he’s purposely the too-cool character who represents the way the writer wishes he had been in high school). For every bit of eye-roll-inducing too-hippness, there’s some nugget of delicious snark, like some commentary on the lameness of Nickleback.

Fired Up! is not nearly as good (or, if you prefer, “good”) as Bring It On. It’s not nearly as much fun, not nearly as genuinely smart, not nearly as willing to laugh at itself. But somewhere in all the smarminess, in all the meta-humor, in all the groan-inducing goofiness, I really did start to like it. C+

Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content throughout, partial nudity, language and some teen partying. Directed by Will Gluck and written by Freedom Jones, Fired Up! is an hour and 34 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Sony Pictures.