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Fired!

"Fired!" proves most potent when on-screen interviewees are playing for keeps, not for laughs. Chris Bradley and Kyle Labrache are nominal helmers, but writer-actress Annabelle Gurwitch is unmistakably the true auteur of this pic, a free-wheeling, first-person docu that recalls early efforts of Michael Moore.

With:
With: Tim Allen, Andy Borowitz, David Cross, Andy Dick, Tate Donovan, Illeana Douglas, Anne Meara, Bob Odenkirk, Harry Shearer, Sarah Silverman, Fisher Stevens, Ben Stein, Fred Willard, Robert Reich, Walter Scheib.

Modestly amusing in fits and starts, “Fired!” proves most potent when on-screen interviewees are playing for keeps, not for laughs. Chris Bradley and Kyle Labrache are nominal helmers, but writer-actress Annabelle Gurwitch is unmistakably the true auteur of this pic, a free-wheeling, first-person docu that recalls early efforts of Michael Moore. Limited theatrical runs may be in the cards, but “Fired!” will be employed more profitably as homevid and cable fare.

Since being sacked from an Off Broadway play by no less a luminary than Woody Allen, Gurwitch (formerly of TBS’s “Dinner and a Movie”) has enjoyed sweet revenge. After penning a well-received essay about the brutal dismissal — Allen reportedly told her that her facial expressions suggested mental retardation — she invited friends and colleagues to describe their own tales of lay-offs and kiss-offs in an Off Broadway monologue series aptly titled “Fired!”

Docu incorporates monologues from that production, along with new interviews and other material Gurwitch also has used for a newly published book.

Throughout pic, Gurwitch questions, narrates and occasionally interacts in a tone pitched somewhere between snarky and sympathetic (leavened with a smidgen of self-pity). Some staged scenes (including a dramatized “re-creation” of Gurwitch’s firing by Allen) fall flat, while other bits (especially her ill-starred effort to help Andy Dick operate a lunch wagon) are stubbornly mirthless.

But many of the anecdotes, delivered on stage and off by the likes of Tim Allen, Illeana Douglas and Fred Willard (who recalls being fired from a TV gig after the producers realized they had mistaken him for another actor) are very funny indeed.

Better still, “Fired!” is genuinely affecting when Gurwitch seriously examines the hardships that ensue during the downsizing of GM plants in Lansing, Mich. And there’s an almost startling emotional impact to an impassioned rant by economist and sometime character actor Ben Stein, an acknowledged conservative (and former Nixon adviser) who rails against corporate greedheads who manipulate bankruptcy laws to weasel out of pension payments. Stein’s unabashed anger is a bracing counterpoint to pic’s prevailing tone of cynical bemusement.

Fired!

Production: A Shout! Factory presentation of a Wherespetey?/Intl. Orange production. Produced by Annabelle Gurwitch. Executive producer, Richard Foos. Directed, edited by Chris Bradley, Kyle Labrache. Written by Annabelle Gurwitch.

Crew: Camera (color, DV), Bradley, Labrache. Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (Spotlight Premiere), Austin, Texas, March 12, 2006. Running time: 85 MIN.

With: With: Tim Allen, Andy Borowitz, David Cross, Andy Dick, Tate Donovan, Illeana Douglas, Anne Meara, Bob Odenkirk, Harry Shearer, Sarah Silverman, Fisher Stevens, Ben Stein, Fred Willard, Robert Reich, Walter Scheib.

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