It's not clear whether documentarian and America's Most Wanted producer Ken Carlson really meant for his audiences to swallow the concept that a critical 1999 school-funding levy in his hometown of Massillon, Ohio, depended entirely on the town spirit whipped up by a heroic high-school football team. Certain dissenting opinions presented in Go Tigers! might imply that he was attempting to subtly illustrate how thoroughly athletics overshadows academics in American life. His lack of overt editorializing is admirable, but it still leaves Go Tigers! off-balance and off-putting, as his "heroes" are draped with adulation, even as they use unpleasant and irresponsible means to achieve questionable ends. In the blue-collar "pigskin paradise" of Massillon, as Carlson demonstrates, football is king; the opening scene, in which booster-club members give a plastic football to a newborn boy and speak to his mother about what position he's likely to play, seems to sum up the town's attitude. Carlson closely follows the three co-captains of the Massillon Tigers through a year of triumphs and setbacks, pep rallies and profanity-laced locker-room sermons, injuries and recoveries, and The Real World-style camera confessionals. The handheld cameras get up close and personal, capturing binge drinking, academic failures, a controversial (and questionably legal) recruitment deal, and, most appallingly, testimony that some of Massillon's huge high-schoolers were deliberately held back a grade in junior high just so they'd have an extra year to develop opposition-crushing bulk. Massillon's school levy, presented as a make-or-break vote critical to the school's future, adds extra spice to the usual will-they-win-or-won't-they sports-movie dynamic, but also casts queasy shadows over the film. The oft-repeated assurance that the levy's failure will guarantee teacher layoffs contrasts uncomfortably with Carlson's loving shots of the school's beautifully maintained football field, its huge swing band and cheerleading squad, the live baby tiger kept on hand as a mascot, and many other football accoutrements that are apparently far less disposable than educators. But Carlson clearly respects his subjects, and expects viewers to get caught up in their quest for victory at any cost. He himself may realize that they're working for the wrong victories, but they certainly don't, which makes it just about impossible to sincerely echo the movie's titular cheer.

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