" I love the smell of pom-pom in the morning..."
In case you had any doubt about the intended audience for Fired Up, note that the plastic wrap on the DVD box has a sticker offering a free one-year subscription to Maxim magazine. It's an offer in which I won't partake, and while I may not be the best person to critique the comedic hijinks of horny high school heterosexuals, I couldn't resist the lure of a male-focused Bring It On, a.k.a Dude, Where's My Pom-pom?
The laughs come immediately, when we realize we're supposed to accept that actors Nicholas D'Agosto (as Shawn) and Eric Christian Olsen (as Nick)--who both hover around 30 years old--are playing high school students, a fact that becomes more humorous given this exchange:
Nick: "I guarantee I'm gonna tap that before I leave."
Shawn: "Dude, she's married...like 30 years old!"
Nick: "That's just how I like them...ancient and regretful!"
The two are players in every sense of the word--the football buds run through the female student body faster than their gridiron drills at Gerald R. Ford High School ("Below-average president, above-average student body!"). Shawn is the smarter, more sensitive stud, while Nick--who keeps a journal of his conquests--is a champion BSer who talks like this: "Looks like she wouldn't mind a little St. Nick stuffed down her chimney!"
The two joined the Tigers just to "pull chicks", and when they realize that the upcoming training camp has been moved from badass Daytona Beach to boring El Paso, they search for an excuse to avoid the sausage fest (and the profanity-laced tirades of "Coach Shit Shit", played by Philip Baker Hall). Just a few minutes into the film, you'll have observed two things: the Tiger cheerleading squad is accident prone, and the two buds have a way with cartwheel celebrations on the football field. (Hmm, if only there was a solution to both problems...)
Shawn and Nick get the zany idea to be aggressive (B! E! Aggressive!) and head to the upcoming cheerleading camp so they can "hit" more chicks. After an amusing stunt orchestrated by Shawn's 12-year-old smartass sister Poppy (Juliette Goglia) convinces the squad to let the guys on board, they all head to Southeast Illinois University to take on the state's best. Cheerleading captain Carly (Disturbia's Sarah Roemer) is skeptical from the start ("I know your game: No girl left unturned!"), but her desire to make her bottom-feeding squad better--and hopefully beat those evil, bitchy Panthers--wins out.
Initially annoyed by their spirit-filled campmates ("We...are driving! We, we are driving!"), the guys are soon ready to bolt--until they realize they actually care about their team! (You never saw that coming!) While Nick wants to "tap" counselor Diora (Molly Sims of Las Vegas, looking like a younger Famke Janssen), Shawn becomes increasingly smitten with Carly. If only she wasn't dating her douchebag pre-fiancé, wannabe-doctor Rick (David Walton). The tool of all tools, he loves watching Animal House, listening to "Mambo No. 5", wearing Crocs and making jokes about "eating" (with) Carly at Red Lobster.
As the competition nears, friendships and loyalties are tested--and the outcome may all hinge on a dangerous, prohibidado cheerleading move called "The Fountain of Troy" (perhaps you saw this plot device the first time, when it was called "The Iron Lotus" and appeared in Blades of Glory).
This is the feature debut from director Will Gluck, and it features a lot of actors--including Olsen, Hall and Walton--who appeared in the short-lived Fox sitcom The Loop, which Gluck wrote and produced. Nothing about Fired Up is original, and despite the constant sex humor, this is PG-13 material all the way. Dirty words are spun through the sensitivity translator, so "snatch" becomes "snootch".
Also listen for innocuous words like meatloaves, muff, Nutter Butters, crunt-sacks, wall-to-wall carpet, screwing the pooch, humpety hump, badonkadonk and knob rocket (in the credits, D'Agosto breaks character to express his frustration: "I can't say 'smoke pole'?!"). And I'm still trying to figure out what a "schwanz" is...oh wait! It's the German word for "tail", also used to describe a man's penis (don't you just love Urban Dictionary?)
Digs at women's menstrual cycles, the LPGA, the Ford Focus, Nickleback, HMOs and Olive Garden abound. More fun is the verbal sparring between the rival cheerleading teams, who channel both Bring It On (one cute scene acknowledges the influence with a self-aware wink) and Not Another Teen Movie ("It's already been broughten!"), another flick where Olsen played a quarterback. While some of the insults will have you groaning ("Does your face hurt when you stuff it with Shepherd's Pie?!" won't win you any smackdown contests), others are worthy of constant repetition (admit it, you love "Welcome back to Sucktown, population...you!")
Yeah, it's all silly, but mostly harmless and sometimes cute. There's a running gag with the team mascots that I wished the film used more often ("Mascots don't talk...they just gesture!"), because nothing cracks me up more than watching people in giant mascot suits: standing still, walking...I don't care. For reasons I can't explain; it's a direct shot to my funny bone. The eagle randomly seen in a group shot by the lake? Love. The "Mascot down!" scene in the closing credits? Love even more. The bulldog on the bicycle? Stop! I can't take it! (Be sure to watch through the very end of the credits for a heroic cameo...)
Stupid? Yes. But at least Fired Up is confident and comfortable with its aim. While I would have preferred a more raucous and ribald R-rated outing, it's kind of charming how the film plays by the rules for its PG-13 audience, even if it's a really young PG-13 audience (how many people will get a reference to Chad Michael Murray?). The story here is simple and the humor is obvious and juvenile, the script written for a Junior Varsity viewing audience.
Gay jokes abound as expected, and as usual the male-on-male action is mocked while the girl-on-girl jokes play out like fantasy. A subplot has One Tree Hill's Danneel Harris smitten with a fellow cheerleader, played by former Deal or No Deal model Hayley Marie Norman (Case No. 25!). I also loved the flashback montage involving a character named Downey. And while the self-aware product placement gag has been overused since Wayne's World, I still managed a snicker at one joke toward the end. And damn if it I'm not going to re-use the line "Medic! This man needs some jocks-ygen!" at some point in my life.
While D'Agosto and Olsen don't do anything remarkable, they're likeable enough and play well off each other (and I dare you not to smile during the nude cheer). And how can you not get a kick out of the obvious stunt doubles used for their more demanding acrobatic moves? It's like Jennifer Beals in Flashdance mixed with a Krystal/Alexis cat fight in Dynasty. And even thought you might not admit it, you're kinda cheering for these guys and the squad at the end.
Others in the cast show some spunk: The always reliable John Michael Higgins (I'll miss you, Kath & Kim!) plays an enthusiastic counselor, Adhir Kalyan is the "colorful" Brewster and Edie McClurg is underused as the Tigers' cheerleading coach. And it took me a while, but I finally relented to Walton's charm as Dr. Rick, a true lovable douche (even if it's impossible to believe that Carly would be dating him): "They didn't come here because they like cheerlea-ding, they came here because they like cheerlea-ders!"
Yeah, I'm ashamed of it, but I actually didn't hate this movie. Gimmie an F! Gimmie a U!What's that spell? A stupid yet silly freshman feature. No touchdown here, just a safety that doesn't completely suck schwanz. Besides, you gotta risk it to get the biscuit, right?
Note: This unrated edition features "hilarious footage not seen in theaters", but the running times for both this and the theatrical version DVD clock in at 90 minutes, so the additions are minor. I didn't see the film in theaters, but my guess is that the bonus footage is inserted during the scene where the gang has some fun in the water (where we get some butt and boob action). The added footage may also come in the closing credits, which adds in some alternate takes that were perhaps too risqué for a PG-13 film; that would account for the running times being the same.
For such a new release, the 2.40:1 anamorphic transfer isn't nearly as pristine as you'd expect. While the overall image is decent, the picture is surprisingly dark (I also noticed a dim flicker at the 37-minute, 13-second mark), long shots aren't sharp and colors vary in intensity within scene edits. Some grain also appears, and became even more obvious when I used an alternate TV setting to try and brighten the image. In the audio commentary, the director and cast mentions that many scenes had color timing issues that had to be corrected, with light being turned to dark and vice versa--that probably accounts for a lot of the problem, which isn't necessarily a transfer issue.
The 5.1 track (in English and French, with subtitles also available in each) is alright, but the film wastes opportunities to use the rear channels as much as they could. Dialogue is usually solid, but some lines within scenes have varying levels, and it's obvious some lines have been dubbed over in post-production.
Before I get to the highly entertaining audio commentary, let's cover the quicker stuff first: This is Not a Cheerleading Movie: The Making of Fired Up (15:38) has director Will Gluck and almost all of the cast talking about various parts of production, including the rigors of cheerleading camp training, the film's humor and costumes, everyone's potty mouths (including Juliette Goglia, who Eric Christian Olsen calls a "12-year-old Joe Pesci") and working with the director. It's short and sweet, with a few decent moments. We learn that part of the filmed was shot at the Los Angeles County Arboretum in Arcadia, a haven for very loud peacocks that frequently disrupted filming (it's something so silly and random, I almost thought it was a gag).
Double Duty (6:22) goes further in depth with the cheerleader and football camp training the two leads had to go through, while the gag reel (7:55, in non-anamorphic widescreen) features a lot of profanity, a lot of peacock calls, some alternate takes and enough funny moments to keep you smiling (like Nicholas D'Agosto asking what a "schwanz" before saying, "Did I Maroon the 5 outta that?", a question explained in the commentary). But I don't buy Olsen's inability to say the word "especially"--I think he was just out for more kisses.
Press Junket: Hour 12 (1:42) is a fake interview with the two leads pretending to get angry with a Canadian journalist for calling the film a "cheerleading movie"--it's easily the worst of the bonus features. Trailers are also included, but not one for Fired Up.
Now to the best part, the audio commentary with director Gluck and leads Olsen and D'Agosto. I recently reviewed Spring Breakdown, another lame comedy that also had a commentary by its writers and director, who unfortunately seemed completely detached and dismissive of their work, like they didn't even care. What's so great about the Fired Up commentary is that while all three are fully aware of the film's place in the universe ("I'm sure this movie will be studied in film theory classes for many years to come," jokes Gluck), they still have a damn good time talking about it--and prove that they cared about their work and had fun doing it.
The three spar well with each other and have a great sense of humor about everything. Not only is the track funny (it is the most fun I've had listening to a commentary), it shares some interesting information about the filmmaking process, too. Here are just some of the highlights, both hysterical and informative:
- Gluck says of respected actor Philip Baker Hall: "He took a bad career turn in this...you can just hear the sounds of his Lifetime Achievement Award just being taken away from him during this scene."
- Of John Michael Higgins: "This is what you call, in the business, a money grab!"
- The film was shot on seven locations in California: "In fact, our location manager won Location Manager of the Year for 2008 for this film," says Gluck. "The only award this film will ever win."
- Another location was the President's alma mater: "Now Occidental has two famous things happen to it: Barack Obama and Fired Up."
- On going PG-13 instead of R: "We were under the influence of crack cocaine," says Gluck. "In retrospect, we probably should have done R, but I kind of like the idea of doing a movie everyone can go see...so we don't swear very much in this movie, there's not really much--any--nudity. But apparently people like to see that."
- At one point, the eagle mascot is shown reading a book: The Intellectual History of Modern Meiji Japan: Japan's Modern Myths. It was written by Gluck's mother.
- Gluck's father can also be seen as an extra in a scene on a bus. He had lines, but the director cut them: "I'm a terrible son." Watch in the 63rd minute: "If you look carefully...he is actually mouthing his lines, and I didn't realize that until I actually saw it on the gigantic screen. You could actually see him moving his mouth."
- At the 41:33 mark, D'Agosto points out a hysterical tumble I missed when I first watched the film: actor Collins Pennie bites it in the pond ("He's gonna hate that I brought that out...sorry, Collin!").
- In one scene, Gluck wanted to use a clip of Keeping Up with the Kardashians on a TV in the background--but Kim wouldn't approve it.
- On the product placement gag: "People think that we actually got money from Staples. It's the opposite. We had to go through 10 brands that would even allow us to do this...first it was Linens 'n Things, and then it was Bed, Bath & Beyond...and the only person that would approve it was Staples. We didn't get anything from it."
- Friend and fellow director Andrew Fleming has a cameo, and Hamlet 2 also gets a shout-out ("Rock me, sexy Jesus!").
The director takes frequent--and funny--aim at many of the film's detractors, including some who criticized his shooting style: "If you read some of the reviews, it said I didn't know where to put a camera. I disagree. I put the camera in front of where they were speaking." There's also a hysterical sequence in which the two actors tease the director for his inability to differentiate two of his senses ("That's not hearing, that's 'saw'!").
- The studio wanted Gluck to cast Chad Michael Murray as Dr. Rick.
- The score was done by former Oingo Boingo keyboardist Richard Gibbs, who worked with former Blink-182 singer Mark Hoppus on an original song for the film.
- The credited writer, Freedom Jones, is actually four people.
- Gluck notes that filmmakers have to pay three times as much for a song they use if the cast sings along to the lyrics (as with "Tubthumping" here), called a "visual vocal".
- Gluck hates Crocs: "My kids have Crocs, and it sickens me."
- The film went back to the MPAA 18 times before getting a PG-13 rating.
- On Roger Ebert: "Surprisingly, not a fan of this movie."
The trio also points out the stunt double scenes, gives props (and tries to remember the names) to virtually every actor in the film, mentions how they pondered what wine would be gayer (rosé or chardonnay) and talks about the difficulty of some key shots (like the first time the guys arrive at the camp, and the scene where 300-plus actors have to mouth the dialogue to Bring It On without actually hearing it).
There's also a few exchanges that had me smiling:
Gluck: "This movie took nine weeks to shoot...and one week to die."
Olsen: "One week?! I think it was Friday matinees..."
And if Gluck told D'Agosto to "Stop Marooning it!", it meant the actor's voice was getting too high (thus explaining the "Did I Maroon the 5 outta that?" question). The director has another phrase for Olsen:
Olsen: "I've got really big nostrils, and so if I had my head up..."
Gluck: "...two-car garage..."
Olsen: "...it's a double-banger. And so he would be like, 'I'm gonna give you a code word...for me he goes, 'We're gonna Eliot Spitzer it, so look down.' So he would always be yelling, 'Eliot Spitzer this one!'"
And for those who make it all the way through the commentary, they have an offer: If you see them in public, go up to them and say "banana pants" and they'll give you $5. How can you not love these guys?
Stupid yet harmless, this junior varsity comedy for the PG-13 crowd is like Bring It On's immature younger brother. Simple and cartoonish, it relies on juvenile humor that isn't always as bad as you'd expect. If you're in the mood for dumb fun, be a sport (B! E! A Sport!) and Rent It, and be sure to check out the entertaining audio commentary, too.