The notion of heroes, and going to any lengths to create them, is at the heart of What Goes Up, a wildly uneven mix of suicide, misfits, teen pregnancy and the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster, none of it adding up to much.
Journalist Campbell Babbitt (Coogan), sent to Christa McAuliffe’s hometown to get the story of the local hero in anticipation of her shuttle voyage, discovers upon arriving that his Cambridge buddy, who taught troubled kids in that town, has apparently killed himself, leaving many grieving students in his wake. Babbitt eschews the McAuliffe angle, deciding instead to write about his deceased friend’s impact on the students, in the process becoming infatuated with Lucy (Duff), a girl his friend was under investigation for allegedly sleeping with. Meanwhile, Babbitt is struggling with his own demons.
This had the potential to be a smart little movie with things to say about the nature of heroism, and the performers are certainly game for their roles, but What Goes Up has so much ballast that it can barely get off the ground. The filmmakers drown us with an abundance of subplots (including an absolutely pointless bit with a wheelchair-bound teen and her attempts to have sex) and red herrings (the 11th-hour suggestion that the teacher was murdered just comes off as ludicrous). Worse, the sudden changes in tone from tragedy to black comedy to teen-movie clichés kill whatever momentum the film might have had.