×

What Goes Up

As if journalism hasn't suffered enough of late, along comes "What Goes Up."

With:
Campbell Babbitt - Steve Coogan Lucy Diamond - Hilary Duff Tess Sullivan - Olivia Thirlby Jim Lement - Josh Peck Penelope Little - Molly Shannon Donna Arbetter - Molly Price Fenster Itkskicq - Max Hoffman Peggy Popoladopolous - Sarah Lind

As if journalism hasn’t suffered enough of late, along comes “What Goes Up,” a pointless and pretentious drama that — given its title and direct linkage to the 1986 Challenger shuttle disaster — nearly adds tasteless to its unflattering hat trick. In his feature debut, co-writer/director/producer/editor Jonathan Glatzer makes one unfortunate choice after another, taking a story that desperately wants to resonate as “important” and rendering it merely irritating. The cast’s bold-faced names — Steve Coogan, Hilary Duff, “Juno’s” Olivia Thirlby — seem unlikely to prevent a rough landing.

Glatzer (who wrote the screenplay with Robert Lawson, liberally adapted from the latter’s play) states in the press notes that his goal was to “put heroism in America under the microscope,” but what’s onscreen proves far too disjointed to coherently make that clear.

Best known Stateside for comedy (“Tropic Thunder,” “Hamlet 2”), Coogan plays Campbell Babbitt, a reporter who — after having an affair with an interview subject — has covered up her suicide and proceeded to write a series of uplifting pieces about her. Babbitt’s Jayson Blair-like turn has gone undetected, but his boss dispatches him to write about Christa McAuliffe, the New Hampshire educator chosen to become the first teacher in space, who tragically died along with the entire crew.

Once at the school, Babbitt exhibits little appetite for this human-interest story and tries to look up another teacher who’s an old college acquaintance. Alas, he’s also apparently committed suicide, leaving behind a crestfallen group of teenage misfits with whom he appeared to share rather unsavory bonds.

The group includes the flirtatious Lucy (Duff, in what amounts to a near-adult role) and the brooding Tess (Thirlby). With Lucy leading the way and Tess disapproving, the kids are strangely intent on drafting the reporter to assume the place of their late teacher, whom they describe with cult-like reverence, calling him “almost a priest.”

What transpires thereafter is too awkwardly constructed to be disturbing, but the teens verge on seeming sexually predatory. The truly crippling miscalculation, though, is using the slow-building hoopla toward the Challenger launch as a backdrop, including a school musical revue assembled by another hapless teacher (a wasted Molly Shannon). Then again, the songs, grainy TV footage of Ronald Reagan and a scene in which Babbitt bangs out prose on a typewriter (newsflash: We actually had computers by the mid-’80s) provide constant reminders of the era, as if the Challenger tie-in wasn’t enough.

Beyond showcasing a darker streak, Coogan can’t find any logic in his character, who is ostensibly grappling with a moral dilemma about his earlier deception. The kids are mostly OK but at times behave as if they parachuted in from a Stanley Kubrick film, only without Kubrick to guide them.

As for Duff, the one-time “Lizzie McGuire” star looks winsome, but her alter ego is aptly described as “a very confused girl.”

That she is, in a very confused movie.

What Goes Up

Production: A Three Kings release of a Nasser Entertainment Group and Insight Film Studios presentation of a Station 3 production. Produced by RD Robb, Jonathan Glatzer. Executive producers, Kirk Shaw, Joseph Nasser, Jack Nasser, Steve Coogan, Thomas N. Greenauer, James Hoke, Anthony Miranda, Joseph Nahas. Co-producer, Robert Lawson. Directed by Jonathan Glatzer. Screenplay, Glatzer, Robert Lawson.

Crew: Camera (color), Antonio Calvache; editors, Glatzer, Jennifer Godin; music, Roddy Bottum; music supervisors, Randall Poster, Joe Rudge; production designer, Tony Devenyi; art director, Kerri Elliot; set decorator, Sierra LaFlamme; costume designer, Andrea Des Roches; sound (Dolby), Trent Stewart; associate producer, Meredith Tucker; assistant director, Matthias Mellinghaus; second unit director, Lawson; casting, Tucker. Reviewed at Sunset screening room, Los Angeles, May 7, 2009. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 107 MIN.

With: Campbell Babbitt - Steve Coogan Lucy Diamond - Hilary Duff Tess Sullivan - Olivia Thirlby Jim Lement - Josh Peck Penelope Little - Molly Shannon Donna Arbetter - Molly Price Fenster Itkskicq - Max Hoffman Peggy Popoladopolous - Sarah Lind

More Film

  • Themba Ntuli and Ashley Lazarus

    Ashley Lazarus, Director of Apartheid-Era Cult Classic, Returns to Screen

    DURBAN–Director Ashley Lazarus, whose film about the interracial friendship between two young boys during the apartheid era became a South African cult classic in the 1970s, is set to return to the big screen with a film that builds on his life-long passion for early-childhood education. “Teacher Wanted” is the inspirational story of a teacher [...]

  • Channing Tatum

    Channing Tatum's Free Association Partners With Atwater Capital for Film Development Fund

    Free Association, a production company led by Channing Tatum, Peter Kiernan and Reid Carolin, has entered into a film development fund with Atwater Capital. The four-year $2 million revolving fund stipulates that Atwater will finance a minimum of five films with Free Association. Michael Parets, VP of production, will oversee the deal. Free Association will [...]

  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

    Box Office: Tarantino's 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' Takes on 'Lion King'

    Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” will have to take on much more than a changing showbiz landscape. This weekend, the washed-up actor and his majordomo are battling Disney’s juggernaut “The Lion King” at the domestic box office. Tarantino’s R-rated auteur [...]

  • Margot Robbie Once Upon a Time

    Margot Robbie Says 'Barbie' Movie Will Put 'Positivity' Into the World

    Over the last 10 years, Margot Robbie has stepped into the skates of Tonya Harding, taken up the mantle of Harley Quinn and, next up, she’s playing the world’s most famous doll, Barbie. The live-action film is due out in 2020 and set to be written by Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach, while Robbie serves [...]

  • 2018 NALIP Gala

    National Association of Latino Independent Producers Celebrates Its 20th Anniversary

    Ben Lopez has seen the future of the entertainment industry, and says it is the Latinx community. “In the next 20 years, we’re going to be prioritized — because not only will we have the numbers demographic-wise, we’ll have the spending power,” says Lopez, the executive director of the National Assn. of Latino Independent Producers, [...]

  • 'Patrick Melrose' TV show premiere

    Benedict Cumberbatch, Claire Foy to Star in 'Louis Wain'

    Benedict Cumberbatch (“Avengers: Endgame”) and Claire Foy (“The Crown”) are set to star in “Louis Wain,” a biopic of the prolific English artist who rose to prominence at the end of the 19th century. “Louis Wain” will start shooting on Aug. 10 with BAFTA-nominated Will Sharpe (“Flowers”) directing the film, which was written by Sharpe [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content