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'POMS' review: It's hard to cheer for this squad of spirited retirees

"Poms," the story of a team of

 "Poms," the story of a team of aging cheerleaders, opens in theaters on Friday. Credit: STXfilms/Kyle Kaplan

PLOT The women of a retirement community start a cheerleading squad.
CAST Diane Keaton, Jacki Weaver, Rhea Perlman
RATED PG-13 (language and innuendo)
BOTTOM LINE A thoughtless throw-away that could have been a gem.

Any comedy starring Diane Keaton is a welcome proposition, especially one that casts her as a headstrong retiree leading an elderly cheerleading squad. If anyone could pull off “POMS,” a potentially giddy mix of “Cocoon” and “The Full Monty,” it’s Keaton, charming and sly as ever at 73. What’s more, her support cast is an intriguingly eclectic group of familiar but underutilized faces.

If only “POMS” treated its actresses with the care they deserved, the movie could have been a real gem. Instead, it’s a slapdash, thoughtless mess. Like a busy teenager who barely acknowledges her grandparents, this movie doesn’t seem to realize what treasures it has.

Keaton plays Martha, a single woman with no children and ovarian cancer. After leaving her city apartment for a home in the retirement community of Sun Springs, Martha discovers that she won’t be allowed to die in self-imposed misery; she’ll be expected to smile, socialize and even join a club. Instead, recalling a high-school dream unfulfilled, Martha forms a club of her own for aging cheerleaders. Despite much tongue-clucking from the community’s grandes dames (Celia Weston plays the unctuous Vicki) and much mockery from the local high school girls (among them Alisha Boe as Chloe), Martha and her team move forward — all the way to a statewide competition.

On paper, it sounds terrific. Thanks to scattered direction from Zara Hayes and a skeleton-thin script from Shane Atkinson, however, “POMS” never manages to bring its characters to life. We warm to Jacki Weaver as Sheryl, the saucy yin to Martha’s sullen yang, and we get a sense of Rhea Perlman as Alice, a doormat learning to assert herself. Still, could this film not have thrown a bit of dialogue to Patricia French as the Texas line-dancer Phyllis, or to Carol Sutton as the sporty grandma Ruby? What kind of movie casts Pam Grier, a legend of ‘70s blaxploitation films like “Coffy,” as the rough-and-ready Olive, yet doesn’t give her more than a line or two?

As an ensemble comedy, “POMS” not only neglects its ensemble, it also overlooks numerous opportunities for a good joke. Would you believe Martha and her teammates never even give their squad a clever name? No matter what your age, life is too short for “Poms.”

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