Cheerleaders are dancers who have gone retarded.
Quick-- what do Kim Basinger ("L.A. Confidential"), funnyman Steve Martin ("The Spanish Prisoner"), Calista Flockhart ("Ally McBeal"), singer Sheryl Crow, Ashley Judd ("Double Jeopardy"), Meryl Streep ("Music of the Heart"), Samuel L. Jackson ("Rules of Engagement"), and the late U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower have in common? Believe it or not, they were all cheerleaders at one time or another in their lives. But even though the sport of cheerleading (yes, it is actually considered a sport, with its own competitions covered by ESPN) has been one of the long-standing conventions of films set in high schools (such as in "American Beauty" and the recent "But I'm a Cheerleader"), there have been few films that have actually delved wholeheartedly into the world of professional cheerleading. Originally conceived by screenwriter Jessica Bendinger as a documentary about cheerleading competitions, "Bring It On" is such a film.
My original thoughts going into the theater were, "great, yet another 'set in a high school' movie", however, I found myself pleasantly surprised. Instead of more teen fluff, I found several comic gems in Bendinger's mocking yet reverential look at cheerleading, which brought to mind the scathing satire of writer/director Amy Heckerling ("Clueless"). This, combined with the animated direction of Peyton Reed, makes "Bring It On" one of the most pleasant comic surprises of the summer.
My whole cheerleading career has been a lie!
Look on the bright side... it's only cheerleading.
The setting is Rancho Carne High School in San Diego, where Torrance Shipman (Kirsten Dunst of "Small Soldiers") has just been elected captain of the school's Toro cheerleading squad. Though the school's mediocre football team has yet to win a game, the cheerleaders are five-time national champions, and are poised to capture the national title for a sixth year in a row. Unfortunately, in addition to inheriting a winning team, Torrance quickly discovers that she has inherited a legacy of lies-- all of the squad's 'original routines' were stolen from the cheerleading squad of the East Compton Clovers by former captain Big Red (Lindsay Sloane). Even more troubling is that the new captain of the Clovers, Isis (Gabrielle Union of "She's All That"), is on to the Toro deception, and is out to expose and humiliate the squad at every turn.
With only a few weeks to regional championships, Torrance must come up with a completely new routine for her squad. Thankfully, she is assisted by new recruit Missy Pantone (Eliza Dushku of TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"), a former gymnast who, despite her outstanding physical abilities, still feels that cheerleading is demeaning. Also providing moral support is Missy's scholarly brother Cliff (Jesse Bradford of "Romeo + Juliet"), who may have also have a crush on Torrance. Unfortunately, Torrance also has a number of obstacles to overcome. In addition to trying to come up with original and trophy-winning routines from scratch, she must also deal with an internal power struggle instigated by bitchy squad members Courtney (Clare Kramer of "In & Out") and Whitney (Nicole Bilderback of "Can't Hardly Wait"), who can't wait to take her place.
Some mothers would kill to get their daughters on a squad!
No, that woman hired a hitman.
It certainly is refreshing to see a 'set in a high school' movie that isn't about guys trying to get laid (as in "American Pie"), girls wondering who will take them to the prom (as in "Whatever It Takes"), or serving merely as a flimsy framework for stringing together a series of unfunny and unrelated jokes ("Scary Movie"). Yes, "Bring It On" may have the scatological humor of its less-distinguished brethren, and the dialogue is testing at times (particularly the prissy posturing of Courtney and Whitney), but what makes it work is the context, which is a combination of the film's characters and the script's agenda.
I'm sexy, I'm cute, I'm popular to boot!
I'm bitchin', great hair, the boys all like to stare!
Like "Clueless", "Bring It On" is populated by simple, yet likable, characters, each with their own quirks, and much of the fast-and-furious humor revolves around how their personalities clash with the contradictory circumstances they find themselves in. In addition, Bendinger's script is also a scathing yet hilarious deconstruction of cheerleading, which calls to mind how Baz Luhrmann's "Strictly Ballroom" skewered the ultra-competitive world of ballroom dancing, or how Juzo Itami's "Tampopo" mocked and celebrated how seriously people viewed the act of eating. The film's opening scene, a musical number reminiscent of the big Hollywood musicals of the Thirties and Forties, is alone worth the price of admission in how it brilliantly glamorizes everything that's wrong with the general public's perceptions of cheerleading. Another terrific scene is when an over-the-top dance choreographer (Ian Roberts) tries to instill his own sense of structure and style around the squad's routine.
It would be easy to dismiss "Bring It On" as just another cliché-ridden movie hoping to cash in on the burgeoning teen demographic, but then you would miss out on all the "Clueless"-type fun. It may not be art per se, but laced with plenty of sharp humor, spunky characters, sassy dialogue, and some interesting choreography, "Bring It On" is an unexpectedly infectious musical-comedy that exudes plenty of good cheer.