"Bring It On" is better than any movie about cheerleading really ought to be.
Taking cues from "Clueless" -- the best teen bubble gum flick of Generation Y -- it's a self-mocking popularity satire that takes frequent pot shots at "sweater monkeys" and their endlessly percolating pep, while also allowing its bright cast of pretty young things to color outside the lines of their stock characters.
The talented Kirsten Dunst embraces her inner ditz as Torrence Shipman, the new cheer captain of the Rancho Carne High School Toros, a boys-and-girls pep squad with a repertoire of flashy choreographed routines and a major reputation to maintain. For five years running they've won the ruthlessly competitive national cheerleading championships. (You know you've watched them on ESPN2, admit it.)
But as her tenure begins, Torrence makes a discovery that could ruin "my whole cheerleading career!" It seems her catty, conniving predecessor swiped every one of their incredibly dexterous half-time numbers from the East Compton Clovers, an inner city squad that ain't gonna take it lying down when a bunch of blonde San Diego suburbanites start pinching their moves.
In the end, of course, the two squads will face off at the national competition, and the closer "Bring It On" gets to that inevitable finale, the more it seems to fall back on the tiresome preparing-for-the-big-game-style plot template. But for most of the movie, the predictability is balanced by an anything-goes sense of humor and entertaining characters played by watchable stars.
In addition to Dunst, who brings a little dignity to what could have been an humiliating jiggle role, the movie mocks the "in crowd" mentality by looking at the cheerleaders through the amusingly cynical eyes of a grungy-but-beautiful brother and sister duo, just transferred from L.A. (which at this country club high school means they're, like, total freaks).
An intellectual (ooo! he reads!) Green Day wannabe with a hormone-racing smile, Cliff (Jesse Bradford) lowers himself to hanging around the pompom girls because he has a jones for Torrence. Missy (Eliza Dushka, Faith on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") on the other hand, is an acrobatic tough cookie in army pants and white-girl dreadlocks who tries out for the cheer squad because "your school has no gymnastics program and this is a last resort."
While these two character are no more original than the cheerleaders, the dumb jocks who say "dude!" and high-five each other every two minutes, or any of the movie's other stereotypes (desperate for a new routine, the girls hire a ruthless, queeny-biker choreographer), Cliff and Missy do provide "Bring It On" a sarcastic breath of fresh air, making it infinitely more tolerable.
Plus, the picture is peppered with incidental humor (like the fact that the Toro football team stinks) and genuinely entertaining character moments that 99 percent of teen-targeted movies are far to shallow to even attempt. The best scene in the whole movie is scene without a word of dialogue, in which Torrence sleeps over at Missy's and tries to flirt with Cliff while brushing her teeth when they end up in the bathroom at the same time. There's more spark, charisma and chemistry in that cute, simple 60 seconds than in a dozen Freddie Prinze, Jr. movies.
Of course "Bring It On" is utterly contrived and full of stock characters. But director Peyton Reed, an alumni of deviant sketch comedy shows like "Mr. Show" and "Upright Citizens Brigade," does his best to make the movie's clichés eat themselves. He also walks a PG-13 tightrope, sneaking in a bikini car wash, a locker room scene and even a little raunchy humor (on top of all the jiggly bits inherent in a cheerleader movie), while still portraying Torrence as the virtuous sweetie.
The movie gets very sloppy in at times, blowing right past the Toros' crash-course creation of a new routine in a throwaway musical montage and relying on narrative crutches like the sporting event announcer ("...but the real Cinderella story here is the East Compton Clovers...!"). Another sadly pandering misstep: The script white-washes -- if you'll pardon the expression -- the Compton girls, played with appealing sass by Gabrielle Union, Natina Reed, Shamari Fears and Brandi Williams. Given the chance, they could have contributed the bite this movie is missing instead of just contributing a few very sharp retorts.
When it does break away from its trite genre trappings and adds a little color, "Bring It On" can be downright winsome.
I'm not saying it's a great movie by any stretch of the imagination. But I went into this flick pretty sure it would appeal only to 1) real cheerleaders who hoping to see themselves depicted as something other than stuck-up tramps, and 2) guys looking to ogle teenage girls. And the fact is, this is a fun (if transparent) movie with much broader appeal.