A movie about a cheerleading competition? I blocked my high school years out of my memory (and I don’t want them back) but I vaguely recall never, ever giving a s**t about what the school colors were. Why should I, or anyone, care about anything in this picture?
Well, there are some surprises. “Bring It On” is sometimes mean-spirited, sometimes sweet, and often quite damaged. If that doesn’t sell you, then there’s quite an array of hot young actresses usually sporting some very skimpy outfits. The attitude and the chicks were enough to distract me, and it might work for you, but if you’re not careful, you just might learn a little something.
Torrance Shipman (Kirsten Dunst) had better learn her lesson fast. It’s the start of her senior year at her San Diego-area high school, and it would appear she had it made. She gets what she most wants, to be named captain of a cheerleading squad on a hot streak of five national championships, and locked into their treasured routine they’re hoping to make it six. Of course, it won’t be that easy.
Torrance begins her tenure by putting the squad through a maneuver that promptly injures one of the teammates for the rest of the season. Her best hope for a replacement is the edgy new kid and gymnast, Missy Pantone (Eliza Dushku). Missy doesn’t get along with the rest of the squad so well, but Torrance gets along easily enough with Missy’s grungy brother Cliff (Jesse Bradford).
Torrance’s problems are just beginning. Torrance soon discovers that the quite evil predecessor lifted the squad’s entire award-winning routine from a team at East Compton High School, and those inner-city girls are pissed. Now the girls must start over from scratch before entering the state and national championships. Hilarity, some extremely bad advice, and Bob Fosse ensue.
This may all sound innocuous enough, but it’s all about the delivery of the material. Writer Jessica Bendinger is new, but director Peyton Reed has directed such TV shows as “Mr. Show” and “The Upright Citizen’s Brigade”. The results show that they can walk the line of caring about their characters while ruthlessly mocking them at the same time. The filmmakers are never sentimental or take the material too seriously, just two of many problems that wrecked “Coyote Ugly”.
The cast is also incredible, and they are not the usual suspects that you’ve seen in at least five other teen movies in the last year. Despite steady work, star Dunst has usually avoided this route with the possible exception of “Drop Dead Gorgeous”. The kicker here was who was cast as her partner-in-crime. The one person who could best a vampire would be a vampire killer, and there’s no one more vivid and alive than Eliza Dushku of TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. No stranger to film (she was Schwarzenegger’s daughter in “True Lies”), this is her first gig following her small-screen success. As Dunst has chugged along developing her post-adolescent career, Dushku proves ready for stardom right out of the gate.
This is not the greatest teen film in the world. This is one of the most likable ever made not starring John Cusack and far superior to any of the dogs Freddie Prinze Jr. has been riding over the past year. All the best teen flicks need the same elements: teens that look and sound like teenagers; teenager-esque problems and reactions; and recognition that these problems may be both inconsequential or silly in the long run but mean everything to the kids at that age. More importantly, these movies have to be entertaining, and I can’t think of anything that better describes “Bring It On”.