Directed by Peyton Reed Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Eliza Dushku, Jesse Bradford, Gabrielle Union, Melissa George, Nicole Bilderback, Lindsay Slone, Richard Hillman, Ian Roberts, Cody McMains. 2000 99 minutes Rated: (for profanity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, August 26, 2000.
A fitfully satiric portrait of a California-set high school cheerleading squad, Peyton Reed's "Bring It On" is a bubbly, little comedic gem, and unexpectedly sharp-witted, to boot. While director Reed and screenwriter Jessica Bendinger could have easily made a shallow, annoying bubblegum movie about gorgeous, trim pom-pom girls, they have wisely opted to take the high road and, not only make a spirited comedy, a sweet romance, and a competitive sports flick, but also one which includes a bit of wise social commentary.
At Rancho Carne High School, the peppy cheerleading squad, the Toros, have won the national championships for five years in a row. This year, however, things are taking a turn for the new, as previous captain of the squad, nicknamed Big Red (Lindsay Sloane), has passed her exclusive reign over to Torrance Shipman (Kirsten Dunst), a committed senior who has devoted her high school years to becoming the best cheerleader possible. With an unsupportive, cheating boyfriend (Richard Hillman) and academics not being her strongest suit, cheering has aided Torrance in connecting to her high school experience, and helped her to fit in in a place where she otherwise might not have. Because she is now the captain of the squad, Torrance feels obligated not to let anyone down.
While holding tryouts, Torrance finally finds a person to fill the last vacant slot in Missy (Eliza Dushku), a straight-talking new girl in town who does a killer backflip and informs everyone right off that, since the school doesn't offer gymnastics, cheering was a last resort. When Missy takes one look at their routines, however, she realizes that, for the last five years, the supposedly inventive Toros have been stealing their routines from the inner city school of East Compton High, who have what it takes to go to nationals, but have never had the money. When Torrance is taken by Missy to witness their own thievery first-hand, she is shocked and disappointed, immediately becoming determined not to let this stop her from making things right for the East Compton Clovers and their headstrong captain Isis (Gabrielle Union), and bouncing back with a fresh routine that is just as good, if not better, than their plagiaristic old ones.
"Bring It On" is the latest entry in the increasingly weary "teen" genre, so it comes as a surprise to find that, with zippy, highly energetic pacing, and a group of talented actors who excel in their potentially two-dimensional roles, this is one of the better movies of its type all year. While falling into the usual pits of the "teen" movie (its occasional predictability and overall cliches), there are several aspects of "Bring It On" that make it rise above the average muck:
#1: The Writing. With acerbic, witty dialogue, "Bring It On" holds the distinction of having some of the most memorable dialogue in a teen film since 1999's sparkling "Election." While funny and usually keeping in tone with the generally lighthearted nature of the picture, screenwriter Bendinger also stays fairly accurate in her portrayal of the characters, none of whom are perfect, and each of which have flaws and a remaining hint of immaturity about them, as all 17-year-olds normally do.
#2: The Acting. Ever since her superb acting debut in 1994's "Interview With the Vampire," Kirsten Dunst has been a young star on the rise. But not to shortchange her by referring to her as merely a "star," Dunst is also a true, top-of-the-line actress who chooses smart roles in diverse projects. Dunst's Torrance may be a teenage girl (and an unusually realistic one), but she also has a firm head on her shoulders, and realizes the difference between right and wrong. Extra points must be given for her strong will; Torrance could, in fact, pose as a model for feminine empowerment everywhere. All other central performances are undoubtedly just as good, from Eliza Dushku (TV's "Buffy"), as Missy; to the magnetic Jesse Bradford (1993's "King of the Hill") as Missy's alternative brother Cliff, who catches Torrance's eye; to Gabrielle Union (1999's "10 Things I Hate About You"), as the no-nonsense Isis.
#3: The Outcome. While most teen flicks can have their whole endings telegraphed far in advance, the climax of "Bring It On," set at the nationals competition, is not only stunningly choreographed (the actors clearly had to learn the routine and perform most of it themselves), but also relatively suspenseful, as it is impossible to predict whether the Toros or the Clovers will come out on top. For once, we have a pseudo-sports movie that actually attempts to be a little different, and doesn't place its bets solely on one team.
Joyfully entertaining and brightly filmed with an appropriate palette of sunny colors, "Bring It On" is, behind its potentially vapid exterior, a very smart movie with a lot of heart. If anything, director Reed knew exactly how to sell his film to me, once and for all, by tacking on a musical rendition of the '80s pop classic, "Mickey," lip synched by the whole cast, during the end credits. How could you possibly go wrong with a slam-bang conclusion like that?