2 stars (out of four)
Haley Graham (Missy Peregrym) is a tough girl. A rebel. A crazed maniac who will destroy everything polite society holds dear. How do we know this? Easy: She spends her aimless afternoons doing tricks on her mountain bike and wearing her long hair (gasp!) tucked into a baseball hat. She doesn't even wear makeup. We're talking hard-core .
One day, after a particularly gnarly jump at a construction site, Haley winds up in police custody, and a judge sends her off to gymnastics camp. Haley, being a toughie, would rather go to juvie, but it's not clear why she's so opposed to doing gymnastics.
What we don't realize is that she's heading off to a place that's not unlike hell: an elite gymnastics academy populated by a gum-smacking coach ( Jeff Bridges) and a swarm of smack-talking gymnasts. Haley, it turns out, was once a world-class gymnast herself but walked out on her teammates at Worlds, for reasons that are darkly hinted at but not revealed until later.
Bridges, looking like he could use a good night's sleep before returning to real movies, chews gum assiduously throughout the movie, and when he's not, he's got some kind of clenched-teeth speech problem that makes you wish he'd find another piece. Peregrym is built like an athlete, but she's probably 7 inches too tall for elite gymnastics. She spends a lot of time towering over her teammates, many of whom hate her thanks to her now-famous mutiny at Worlds.
The most spiteful of all the gym girls is Joanne, played with narrow-eyed, empty-headed venom by Vanessa Lengies (late of "American Dreams"). Haley and Joanne engage in the usual barbed-tongued witticisms of teenage girls, ("What-ever ") until, midway through a critical meet, they find an enemy worth banding against. It's all very heartwarming, in a none-of-this-really-matters-in-the-real-world kind of way; the great inequity addressed in this movie involves a visible bra strap and uptight gymnastics judges. Eating disorders? Abusive coaches? No, thanks! At least "Bring It On" scratched the surface of race and class divisions.
Peregrym, who seems likable enough, is recognizable as Jackie Bradford from ABC's short-lived "Life as We Know It " and probably spent much of the "Stick It" shoot missing the writers from that doomed television show. Screenwriter and first-time director Jessica Bendinger ( the writer behind the far cleverer and less outlandish "Bring It On"), seems to have lost her conviction; this script spends so much time and energy engaging in ironic self-awareness it's at a loss when it comes to actually advancing the plot. "Stick It" reels from its own frenetic pace. The music is loud, the camera cuts are incessant and everything seems geared toward distracting us from what's going on onscreen. Which is not much. As far as its target audience (pre teen girls?) is concerned, that won't prove a problem, but where "Bring It On" found fans well outside its theoretical demographic, "Stick It" is unlikely to follow suit.
When the credits roll after a protracted finale, the takeaway looks something like this: Gymnasts are great athletes, who train crazy hard and can do things most of us can't do and, frankly, wouldn't really want to do in the first place. Gymnastic coaches are weirdos with unfulfilled career aspirations. And leotards only stay in place thanks to the magic of spray-on adhesive.
Written and directed by Jessica Bendinger; cinematography by Daryn Okada; edited by Troy Takaki; music by Mike Simpson; production design by Bruce Curtis; produced by Gail Lyon. A Touchstone Pictures release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:45. MPAA: PG-13 for language.
Burt Vickerman - Jeff Bridges
Haley Graham - Missy Peregrym
Joanne Charis - Vanessa Lengies
Tricia Skilken - Tarah Paige
Mina Hoyt - Maddy Curley
Wei Wei Yong - Nikki SooHooCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times