Saturday, February 28, 2009

Fired Up (2009)

Directed by Will Gluck
Starring Nicholas D'Agosto, Eric Olsen, John Michael Higgins, Sara Roemer
Rated PG-13

"Well, you know what John Lennon once said..."
"No, I don't. I'm not 50. I could ask my dad."

The latter half of the 00's has seen a resurgence in the classic teen sex comedy. Spawned largely by the success of Superbad (2007) and bolstered by the depression and malaise of a failing US economy - escapism is always big in trying times - the modern T.S.C. has two standards modes of operation: the balls-out raunch-fest (College, Sex Drive, 18 Year Old Virgin) and the PG-13 rated, tits-free teasers (The House Bunny, The Hottie and the Nottie). Fired Up attempts to straddle both worlds. On the one hand, there's no nudity, and nobody says "Fuck". On the other hand, the film is specifically about banging cheerleaders, and there's one flagship scene that involves an entire squad rehearsing in their bras and panties. And as we all know, cheerleaders in their underwear equals regular girls naked. So you almost don't notice the tween-baiting emasculation of the PG rating.

Shawn (Nicholas D'Agosto) and Nick (Eric Olsen) are football stars at Gerald Ford High School. By default, this also makes them cocksmen and cads. Indeed, when we first meet them, they've already slept with most of the girls at Gerald Ford, and are looking for fresh meat. It's the end of their junior year, and they're expected to spend the next two weeks at football camp. This year, they're supposed to travel to Texas, and practice their runs and tackles under a merciless summer sun. They are really not into it.

Nick comes up with the capital idea to join their school's failing cheer-squad, the Tigers, so that they can attend a three-week cheer camp, where they are very likely to be the only hetero males among 300 young and agile girls. Clearly, the sexual possibilities are limitless in this scenario. Luckily for our lads, their school's cheer squad, the Tigers are currently last place in the Nationals, largely because they have no strapping young men in their ranks to toss them around effectively. A couple penises in the mix would surely help out their cause. First, however, they have to find a way out of football camp. No easy feat, when your growling, foul-mouthed coach is Phillip Baker Hall (AKA Mr. Bookman, the library cop from Sienfield). They make up the usual cockamamie stories about dying grandmothers and beg off the Texas trip. Next, they have to talk their way onto the squad. Head cheerleader Carly (Sara Roemer) is, not surprisingly, wary of the two scheming virgin killers, but after consulting Shawn's crafty younger sister Poppy (Juliette Goglia), a JV member of the squad, they come up with a showy demonstration of their powers to throw people around, and so, find themselves on the way to Cheer Camp.

After an exhausting bus trip (Nick and Shawn quickly find out that cheerleaders cheer about everything, even riding on busses and eating hamburgers), they make it the vaginal wonderland that is cheerleader camp. When they first arrive, the scene is like something out of a Bollywood musical, with dozens of synchronized cheerleader squads bouncing, jumping and stretching as far as the eyes can see. It is a majestic and impressive sight.

There are a lot of characters involved in this story. There are, of course, the Tigers. There's the virginal head cheerleader Carly, Angela (Haylay Marie Norman, Trailer Park of Terror), the foxy black one, Sylvia (Margo Harshman,), the psychotic neo-goth, and Marcy (Nicole Tubiola), the lesbian. There's the expected rival team, The Panthers, a group of gaunt man-eaters who dress in black, walk in tight formation, and would clearly kill to keep their standing as the number one cheer-squad.

You've got gay kids, including Shawn and Nick's happy go lucky bunkmate Jack (Adhir Kalyan, who, unfortunately, provides the film's only nude scene), a bunch of slapstick-y mascots, a douchebag boyfriend (more on him later) and two camp counselors, husband and wife team Keith (John Michael Higgins) and Diora (Molly Sims).

Nick immediately decides he must have sex with Diora, and launches into as many weird pick-up lines as he can ("So, are you into canopy beds?"). Interestingly, Nick's relentless cougar-hunt is flecked with ageist jokes, i.e. "It shouldn't be too hard to bag her, she's ancient! She's gotta be 30!" The irony of those lines is that the rubber-faced Olsen was already in his 30's himself when they shot Fired Up. It is, of course, a grand tradition in teen sex comedies to insert older actors into teenage roles - 1991's Virgin High starred Linnea Quigley as a Catholic high school girl, and she was 33 at the time - but Fired Up is especially shameless about Olsen. There are scenes where he's shot in sun-drenched close-ups, and you can clearly see his proto-crow's feet.

Coach Keith, not surprisingly, is a highlight of the film. John Michael Higgins has, at this point, developed his clueless/enthusiastic/possibly gay routine into a character that's as seamlessly all-consuming as Robert Englund in his Freddy Krueger days. If he did have a script, he clearly didn't need it. Coach amps up his gang of cheer-girls with a confusing and rambling opening monologue that ends with an inappropriate story about how the doctor told his mother that he burst out of her vagina already waving his "Spirit hands". When he's met with blank stares from the girls, he tries to laugh it off.
"Um, That was a joke," he says. "Except it really happened."

Because you always have to have a love story in these films, Shawn starts to fall for the head cheerleader, Carly, but she's dating a college guy, Rick (David Walton, another 30 year old). Rick is the classic teen sex com ass-head. A pre-med student, he refers to himself as 'Dr. Rick' ("Why prolong the inevitable?), drives a flashy convertible, and listens exclusively to tacky 90's hits. Just when you think you've gotten Chumbawamba and Deep Blue Something's 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' out of your skull, there's Dr fucking Dickface to shove it back in. Of course, Rick is also cheating on Carly. Fired Up piles so many ugly attributes on Rick that he's more of a caricature then a real character, but still, you'll definitely want to punch him in the mouth.

Meanwhile, life goes on at cheer camp. Routines are developed and rivalries sharpen.

After scoring with an abundance of cheerleaders (all they do is make-out in this PG-rated world, but close enough for rock n' roll) Shawn starts to develop a conscience. Nick, on the other hand, cons an entire squad to strip to their scivvies and frolic in a lake (Jack tags along and goes for the full monty). So far, Fired Up has been relatively conflict-free, so when the third-act drama shows up, it seems especially contrived, but whatever. Dr Rick discovers that the boys had plans to leave the camp after two weeks, bailing on the Tigers before the climactic cheerleading competition. Why? Because a guy can only deal with so much pussy, apparently, before he wants to go home and pound beers with his idiot friends.
"It's like the all you can eat breadsticks at Olive Garden," Nick explains to Shawn. "After awhile, you're full, and suddenly you're wondering what you're doing in this restaurant surrounded by fat people."
After presenting the evidence to Carly and Coach Keith, Shawn and Nick are sent packing. Dejected, they attempt to go back to their moronic jock lives, but Shawn is too smitten, and Nick still hasn't scored with Molly Sims, so they make the heroic trek back to Cheer Camp. Will they make it in time for the competition? Will they pull off the nearly impossible 'Fountain of Troy' maneuver? And will Shawn finally bone Coach Diora?

Probably. Things usually work out for cheerleaders.

In summation: Funny and as raunchy as you can get with a PG rating, which, given its central theme, was a strange choice to make. Clearly, the premise had the potential for full-on raunch on an almost nuclear scale. Still, the script (By first-time screenwriter Freedom Jones, whose name annoys me) is surprisingly witty and flecked with lots of Apatow-esque improvisation, especially from the awesomely snarky 13 year old Goglia, and even if they're fully clothed, there's a veritable feast of eye-candy on display, including Reomer, who is beyond adorable.

Gimme an F notwithstanding, you rarely go wrong with a cheerleader movie, and Fired Up is no exception. Laughs, witty lines, and PG-rated boners...what more could you ask for?

Well, you could ask for tits. But besides that, I mean.

Availability: as of this writing, Fired Up is still in theaters.

Clip: Fired Up trailer

- Ken McIntyre

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