Jessica Bendinger has made her career thus far out of writing female-empowerment movies for the teen set. Although they have been of varying quality, from the better than expected (2000's "Bring It On
"), to the wise and whimsical (2006's "Aquamarine
"), to the pure cornball (2004's "First Daughter
"), at least you could always tell that her heart was in the right place when she sat down to pen the screenplay. For her directing debut, Bendinger has evidently dusted off her oldest and moldiest script and then tried to overcompensate for its flaws by piling on loud music, chaotic editing, and so many montage sequences that they all begin to blur together. "Stick It," as positively fluffy as one could imagine a gymnastics-set dramedy of being, is an outright mess.
Missy Peregrym (TV's sadly short-lived "life as we know it") stars as Haley Graham, a former gymnast and current teenage rebel who is arrested for destruction of property when she crashes her bike through a house window. Instead of being sent to juvenile detention for her punishment, she is shipped off to Houston, Texas' Vickerman Gymnastics Academy. Willful and defiant at first as she clashes with Coach Burt Vickerman (Jeff Bridges) and catty competition Joanne Chalis (Vanessa Lengies), Haley eventually learns to use the sport as a way of taking out her aggression. And, as she makes friends with Wei Wei (Nikki SooHoo) and Mina (Maddy Curley) and receives confirmation that her overbearing parents (Jon Gries and Gia Carides) really aren't good people, making it to the gymnastics championships becomes a goal Haley wants for herself.
The premise of "Stick It" isn't the problem; it's the dime-store treatment it receives that spells disaster. Hyperactively directed by Jessica Bendinger and edited with the hands of an ADD sufferer, the film isn't as concerned with telling a substantial story with well-defined characters as it is with bombarding the viewer through sheer force of quick cuts, cheesy camera tricks, and endless music montages interspersed with frivolous dialogue.
2005's "Ice Princess
" may have been from the Walt Disney company and G-rated, to boot, but it was an infinitely more hard-hitting and realistic portrayal of a sport from a girl's perspective than "Stick It." Whether they be on the uneven bars, the balance beam or doing a floor exercise, Bendinger doesn't once capture her characters with the clarity needed to do the art of gymnastics justice. Instead, she either chops up a single performance with innumerable cuts in order to shield the stunt people standing in for the actors, or she sucks out the immediacy of the scene with an overuse of slow-motion and repetition. The characters rarely ever leave the confines of the gym they train in, nor does the movie, which leads one to wonder (1) whether these teens ever go to school, and (2) whether they actually live anywhere, eat, or sleep. For a motion picture aiming to show the struggles and sacrifices of professional gymnasts, "Stick It" is too muddled and one-dimensional to be the least bit perceptive about the subject.
Acting is adequate all around, but the roles are slight. Adults are either cartoonishly shallow (i.e. all the parental figures) or mentors built on cliches (Coach Vickerman). The teen gymnasts are either perky (Wei Wei and Mina) or misunderstood with underlying hearts of gold (Haley and Joanne). The rest of the students at the academy stand obediently in the background and don't say anything. In her first feature film lead, Missy Peregrym is so bratty as Haley during the first hour that it's difficult to truly care about her when she starts to warm up in the second. As Coach Vickerman, Jeff Bridges (2004's "The Door in the Floor
") is okay, but out of place in a role that could have gone to someone of lesser talent for just the same outcome.
As Poot and Frank, Haley's male buddies on the outside, John Patrick Amedori (2004's "The Butterfly Effect
") and Kellan Lutz show up at random despite their characters living hundreds of miles away. Their scenes promise some kind of payoff that awkwardly never arrives. Only Vanessa Lengies (2005's "Waiting
") blesses her turn as Joanne with anything resembling emotional depth, causing one to wish she had been the central figure in the story. Lengies is especially effective in her scenes where Joanne little by little discovers that there is life to be lived and limitless possibilities outside of gymnastics; it's too bad this isn't touched on more than cursorily.
Of course, "Stick It" reaches the championships just in time for the third act, but its "one-for-all-and-all-for-one" feel-good finale is just as much of a non-event as the preceding eighty minutes. Having not earned the audience's cares or set up any meaningful stakes, the tension-free climax listlessly lies there, drearily waiting for the mercy of the end credits to put it out of its hapless misery. Frenetic and bombastic with nothing of consequence to say or do, "Stick It" proves too obnoxious to even qualify as innocuous. This waste of time should go where the sun don't shine, all right, and that's at the bottom of unfrequented DVD bargain bins. Its trip to that very location deserves to be a swift one.