Annabelle Gurwitch is nothing if not resourceful. Since being fired from a Woody Allen play, the actress has used the experience as inspiration for a book, a performance piece and now a film. Talk about milking a cow dry.
Which is not to say that "Fired!" doesn't offer some entertaining tidbits. It opens with a direct Allen homage: Gurwitch in exuberant voice-over, recalling her initial meeting with the director; black-and-white shots of Manhattan juxtaposed with white-on-black titles typed in Allen's signature font; Gershwin swelling in the background. Then Gurwitch and an Allen impersonator reenact her firing: He calls her performance "terrible" and brands it so wretched he warns, "Don't ever do that again! Not even in someone else's play."
Her dismissal begets some awkward moments, like the holiday dinner in which fellow guests ask her about working with Allen. Dejected, Gurwitch seeks counsel, first from vodka, then from her famous pals, who regale her with humiliating tales of their own employment disasters. Those all-too-brief conversations with actors like Fisher Stevens (fired from "Friends"), Ileana Douglas (canned as a coat check girl) and Fred Willard (let go from a TV show because producers had mistaken him for Frank Bonner) make up the best of "Fired!"
They lead into the staged production, in which actors and writers read monologues recounting their various firing experiences. Many of these recollections are also diverting (Andy Borowitz, for example, has some juicy lines about his last days writing for "The Facts of Life"). But then the film tries to become something much more ambitious: Gurwitch attends conventions and interviews the recently unemployed, interrogates former Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich and economist (and sometime actor) Ben Stein, and meets with a "talent management specialist" whose job it is to make downsizing more palatable.
Those serious portions, in which Gurwitch appears far too often to be mugging and cracking wise, are intercut with dumb sketches, like a puppet-show reenactment of Tate Donovan being fired from "Torch Song Trilogy" and an unfunny sequence in which Andy Dick spends a day selling tacos. "Fired!" soon begins to collapse under its inflated weight and conflicting agendas. Is it trying to be a piece of investigative journalism? A sardonic mockumentary? A personal diary of failure and redemption? Like a newly minted college graduate entering the job market, "Fired!" is missing the one thing it could have used most: a career objective.
"Fired." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 11 minutes. Exclusively at Laemmle's Grande, 345 S. Figueroa St., L.A. (213) 617-0268. Also Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m. at Laemmle's Monica, 1332 2nd St., Santa Monica. (310) 394-9741. (Annabelle Gurwitch is scheduled to participate in a Q&A after the 11 a.m. screening Saturday at the Monica.)