It’s a comic smorgasboard of cineteenmatic influences from Bring It On and Superbad to buddy comedies like Wedding Crashers. Shawn (Nicholas D*Agosto) and Nick (Eric Christian Olsen) are girl-obsessed jocks on the Ford High School football team. They scheme to trade another sweat-induced summer at football camp for a stint at the mostly female cheerleading camp instead. Their insincere motive? Score with the chicks. However their muscular presence begins to turn around the miserable fortunes of this pathetic squad and now with an “S” for Shawn and an “N” for Nick the team has a genuine chance to score for the first time at the cheer competition finals. On top of all this Shawn falls for the team captain. With a fresh and lively cast Fired Up transcends the derivative nature of this kind of teen. Learning everything they know from conniving male screen teams like Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson D’Agosto and Olsen may be the best pairing since those two started crashing weddings. Their nonstop rat-a-tat locker room-style patter about girls and sex is delivered with the panache of real comic pros -- especially good is a scene where they must try out their cheer routines for their coach with only a strategically placed pom pom for cover. TV sitcom creator (The Loop) and first-time feature director Will Gluck tends to approach this lightweight material exactly as if he were doing it for the small screen but somehow it works -- with the film’s main attribute being a breezy pace and effortless staging of the cheerleading set pieces. The movie clearly doesn’t take itself seriously even indirectly addressing its Bring It On similarities by having the gang actually watching that movie one night and reciting the dialogue in unison. Funny stuff.
Stop us if you think you’ve heard this one before: Alex Stillman (Bret Harrison) is a college kid who shows a real talent for poker. He is discovered by legendary player Tommy Vinson (Burt Reynolds) who at the insistence of his wife (Maria Mason) retired from the game 20 years earlier but sees a younger version of himself in Alex and offers to train him for some major tournaments. Although their meeting of minds seems initially promising the whole thing falls apart when Alex starts a brief fling with a girl (Shannon Elizabeth) he later finds out is a prostitute Tommy paid off to keep the kid happy. The two are eventually reunited in a different way when Tommy decides to make a comeback on his own and ends up competing against his protégée in a televised tournament worth $8 million to the eventual winner. Although Reynolds has top billing on the end credits marketing materials list Bret Harrison in first position above Burt in the hope that the bland TV star (Reaper Grounded For Life etc.) can draw his young fans. NO one is likely to turn out for this mis-guided Color of Money wannabe. That 1986 film had a different game (pool) and an identical plotline but it also had Tom Cruise Paul Newman in an Oscar winning role and direction by Martin Scorsese. Here you have Reynolds and Harrison sleepwalking through the banal dialogue and pedestrian situations. Reynolds’ toupee shows more interest than he does! And Harrison is thoroughly unconvincing as a guy we are meant to believe can jump right from college to the very top of the poker world in no time flat. Elizabeth actually makes the strongest impression in the film but she has an underwritten part and three scenes. Mason has the thankless role of Reynolds’ long-suffering wife while Charles Durning and Jennifer Tilly can probably find most of their almost non-existent roles on a cutting room floor somewhere. Director Gil Cates Jr. does no favors for his own screenplay (co-written with Mark Weinstock) with static unimaginative shots and coverage of the numerous poker games so sloppy that he makes Lucky You look like a masterpiece. The performances all clearly suffer from his by-the-numbers direction as well. To be fair it is extremely difficult to make card games compelling to watch on screen but most of his shots look like he just set the camera up in one position called ‘Action’ and went out for a smoke. He should have rented Steve McQueen’s 1965 poker classic The Cincinnati Kid to see how a real director (Norman Jewison) could make this stuff visually interesting. Cates is the son of the veteran producer who runs the Oscar show. On the basis of Deal at least Cates Sr. won’t have to worry about finding seats for his son at next year’s ceremony.
She's a hip-hoppin' be-boppin' mean ol' nanny who whips a mean stew and your butt for not doing your homework—and now she's back! Alas we don't speak of the Mrs. Doubtfire sequel but rather that of Big Momma a.k.a. FBI Agent Malcolm Turner (Martin Lawrence). Agent Warner has cut ties with the FBI at the behest of Sherry (Nia Long)—who as you no doubt recall is the granddaughter of the real Big Momma—since she's pregnant with Malcolm's baby. But wouldn't you know that he gets sucked back in after a former colleague is killed. Posing as Big Momma he's hired as a nanny to a suburban family the deadbeat dad of which is involved in the murder and a crime plot. She does it all—cooks cleans dances and even runs down bad guys but it's a race against time to stop the potential national security crisis. That is a race against the film's (mercifully) short running time. Although Lawrence's resume includes some of the dregs of comedy it's hard to argue that he is truly blessed when it comes to physical comedy and comedic timing. He continues both trends here this time without the help of the breakthrough actors of the past two years Paul Giamatti and Terrence Howard who yes both starred in the first Big Momma's House. That means Lawrence's urban mania is truly on its own and absurd and juvenile as the film may be even film snobs can't hold back a few laughs at his Big Momma outlandishness. Longreturns for no more than a select few scenes and to provide a minor conflict in the story. The notable newcomer is CSI's Emily Procter as the sterile mother who hires Big Momma. She does a serviceable job as a suburban Petite Momma. Might she be the next Giamatti or Howard to bolt to bigger and better things in time for the next sequel? No.
Big Momma's House 2 is right up director John Whitesell's alley. He's the guy behind such misses—though not necessarily financially—as Malibu's Most Wanted and See Spot Run and he's right at home here. Whitesell doesn't hold back in (literally and figuratively) pulling the robe off Big Momma but he clearly knows that nothing is to interrupt Lawrence's antics not even the thin story line. Aside from that he knows quite well how to execute thinly veiled rip-offs of the aforementioned Mrs. Doubtfire as well as countless other hidden-motive comedies (i.e. Kindergarten Cop Houseguest et al). Because while the main guise is the Big Momma fat suit Whitesell parades the film about as a feel-good/family flick.
A middle-school version of Mean Girls and darn close to every other PG-rated girl-power movie you or your daughters are likely to see this follows four brash eighth-graders as they have a sleepover to wear dress-up clothes freeze their bras fantasize about boys dance madly and celebrate their graduation to high school. They see themselves as social outcasts but while one (Kallie Flynn Childress) is short and plump. the others could be cheerleaders at any real school--Spy Kids' Alexa Vega (who gives the party and is the film's star) Mika Boorem and Scout Taylor-Compton. (Does anybody still name their kid "Jane" these days?) But just when they're being good girls and staying home as mom (Best in Show's delightfully edgy Jane Lynch) has demanded a snooty rival (the statuesque blonde Sara Paxton) and her coterie challenge them to a slightly risqué scavenger hunt. That involves getting into a bar and ordering Sex on the Beach cocktails changing the display in an Old Navy window (one of many shameless plugs) and escaping from a dimwit security guard by driving a tiny lime-green electric car that is the ugliest movie vehicle ever. In a surprisingly erotic scene for a PG movie Vega--wearing a tight red party dress with a plunging neckline that amply reveals why she's been having "growing pains"--sneaks into a "hot" boy's bathroom to steal his boxers watching from the shower as he removes them. Just in case you thought this all would lead to a teen reenactment of Psycho Sleepover ends with the usual sentimental empowerment lessons learned and friendships sealed. And the chubby girl even finds a boyfriend who likes brownies more than carrots.
The film's three casting directors all worked overtime to find young actresses amazingly reminiscent of slightly older girl-role-model favorites. Vega conveys the same mixture of insecurity and self-confidence as Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls and even has the same expressions. With her moon-round face long tangle of dark hair and glowing smile she might also remind adults of a teen Bonnie Raitt. But she's maturing so fast she already seems too old for this part physically and temperamentally. There are moments in fact when the actress acts dismissive of the story's clunky derivative plot mechanics. Meanwhile Boorem is warmly Kirsten Dunst-like and Paxton such an amazing reincarnation of Reese Witherspoon that I'll look for her in a Legally Blonde sequel when she hits 18. This is all good by the way - most everyone appears to relish her chance in the spotlight. But even better are the two offbeat comic actors who play Vega's parents--Lynch and the portly Jeff Garlin (of Curb Your Enthusiasm) as the clueless dad. The film reaches a moment of Freaky Friday hilarity with Vega discovers enthusiastic mom Lynch wiggling and writhing at a dance club. "Yeah older lady shakin' her boo-tay " the deejay announces as Vega cringes. It's a great movie parent-child moment.
Director Joe Nussbaum got his start in Hollywood with the cult favorite short George Lucas in Love and this marks his feature debut. He gets the train to the station in time so to speak but the pace is so chop-chop quick that a lot of promising comic and romantic scenes go underdeveloped amid the editing pace. And unfortunately Nussbaum kept in all the corny scenes involving an unfunny security guard (Steve Carell) who harasses the girls. There also are a lot of tiresome close-ups and two-shots - this could (and doubtlessly will) play on TV with little lost. So unlike the cast the direction isn't pretty. But writer Elisa Bell however does embellish the formulaic plot with some unusual--sometimes even downright surreal--dialogue. I'm still trying to figure out for instance what Sam Huntington as Vega's slightly older brother (a Giovanni Ribisi look-alike by the way) means when he tells her "Go be a teenager. It ends too soon. And it gets replaced by ribbons and lampshades." Huh?
Let's hear it for the old guy who in this movie comes off sexier than his buff young accomplice (Dermot Mulroney). OK the old guy happens to be the gracefully aging icon Paul Newman -- as a feisty heistmeister who dodges a long prison sentence and then teams up with his equally conniving rest-home nurse (Linda Fiorentino) on a bank job gone wrong. "Where the Money Is" is breezy suspenseful and as much a love story as anything else -- if you call mentoring a new life in crime a kind of love. The mission-improbable caper is no more or less entertaining than a "Rockford Files" rerun but the film's swerving joyride takes its real thrills from the great escape that Fiorentino's Bonnie Parker makes from a dead-end life in the married lane.
Newman still hasn't lost it and as Henry Manning he doesn't miss any nuances in the edgy balance between streetwise wariness and amiable rapport with his sultry new colleague. The steam-powered Fiorentino has forged her career by making danger look casual and this is her most alluring work since "The Last Seduction" added another zero to her salary. Her chemistry with Newman a flirty twist on the idea of honor among thieves is really what makes this movie worth seeing. Mulroney is serviceable as the dim but lovable hubby a supporting role that's more foil than fully etched character.
We can all thank director Marek Kanievska for deciding not to have the May-December duo end up in the sack and leaving them simply professional cohorts. The director's admirable sense of comic timing works all the better by not letting the laughs get in the way of his leads' exploration of their characters -- although there's no denying the limits of this frothy genre. Perhaps Kanievska's greatest feat here is allowing Newman to retain his dignity in close-up.