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Bring It On

Starring Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Bradford, Gabrielle Union, Eliza Dushku, Claire Kramer
Screenplay by Jessica Bendiger
Directed by Peyton Reed

IN SHORT: Frivolous fun in a sweet pic. [Rated PG-13 for sex-related material and language. 90 minutes]

August is usually loaded to the gills as a dumping ground for films that are pretentious, misguided, poorly produced and/or written and/or directed. Then again, there's a whole subgenre of movie makers who use the term "film" to mean something more substantial and important than the plebeian "movie" that everybody shells out for. These film makers are usually found talking about the sorry state of the biz at film festivals where intolerable pieces of crap are lauded and proclaimed "the best movie of the year" by critics that stay away from the same theaters that real people, most of us, go to. Then, there are movies that seek to nothing more than give you a good time while you shovel popcorn whatever down your gullets. The less you expect, the better they perform if they're made with heart, and if they star Kirsten Dunst.

Granted, when I first stumbled upon a National Cheerleading Competition on ESPN a pair of years ago, I thought it was the dumbest thing I'd ever seen. Then again, ESPN covers bungee jumping as a professional sport, too, so maybe there's a gray area here. The routines featured in competition are about as far from rah! rah! go team! yea! bouncing pom poms as you can get. They're much closer to gymnastics and that's the one area where Bring It On never bothers to explain or make a distinction.

The flick, set at San Diego's Rancho Carne High School, tells the tale of that school's five time national champion cheerleading squad -- a coed squad all set for all sorts of stereotypical below the belt comedy, had writer Jessica Bendiger wanted to go that route. She didn't, though there is enough sexual politics at work in the squad to offer up a few gags.

It's a new school year for senior Torrance Shipman (Dunst). Her boyfriend Aaron just shipped off to college. She's just been elected captain of the Toros cheerleading squad, whose performances draw bigger crowds than the never-won, never-had-a-chance-of-winning football team. With two of her girls actively working to unseat her, Torrance pushes the squad to physical heights undreamed of. This causes an injury and an emergency replacement, a surly transfer from Los Angeles named "Missy" (Eliza Dushku), signs up -- because the school has no gymnastics team. Torrance isn't taking any of that attitude and, exuding tremendous amounts of high energy and confidence (what used to be called spunk) she gets Missy to pay attention to what the champion cheerleaders are doing. Missy recognizes the routines immediately -- they've been ripped off from a squad up in East Compton, created by a less monied, almost all African-American team called the Clovers. Stating that "my entire cheerleading career has been a lie," Torrance is determined to do the right thing and start all over.

With regional competition coming up, the team raises cash (read: car wash with lots of bikinis and wet bodies) to hire a "professional cheerleading choreographer" named Sparky Polastri (Ian Roberts) who is such a caricature of stereotyped macho choreographers (think Fosse) that his brief screentime yields some of the goofiest gags. Ultimately, it all comes down to Toros versus Clovers, but you knew that way in advance, with enough machinations and pep to keep everything moving quickly.

With energy levels akin to bottled lightning, it's almost impossible to not pay attention to the antics on screen. Rather than dwell on the impossibility of building a new routine in less than three weeks, the script centers itself on the characters. Dunst delivers an engaging performance in what could otherwise have been relegated to the back waters of a USA made-for-Cable movie. There's a great deal of sexual tension between her and new love interest Cliff (Jesse Bradford) as well as professional tension between her and Isis (Gabrielle Union), team captain for the Clovers.

The interesting question, to me, is whether or not the teenboys will cater to a cheerleader flick without a hint of gratuitous nudity and almost no bodily function gags. Not my problem. Watching Bring It On is like is like eating cotton candy. It's sweet, and then it's gone.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Bring It On, he would have paid...


A popcorn chomping dateflick, aimed at the kidlets.

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