'Stick It'

Genre-defying, credibility-defying and attention-deficit-defying, "Stick It" feels like a movie made with a hacked Sony PlayStation and a box of crayons. "Bring It On" screenwriter Jessica Bendinger makes her feature directing debut and treats it like it's her last, throwing in every conceivable mood and stylistic gizmo available.

Aimed squarely at girls who watch the Disney Channel but like to sneak over to MTV when their parents aren't around, "Stick It" is the story of Haley Graham (newcomer Missy Peregrym, who looks like a cross between Jessica Biel and Hilary Swank). Haley is a 17-year-old former world-class gymnast now fond of performing X-Games maneuvers on her dirt bike and striking defiant poses.

Haley's middle name would appear to be Attitude, and Bendinger does everything in her power to assure we understand that she's a rebel — though her attire would appear to have come from Urban Outfitters and those mall stores that sell reissues of old punk T-shirts. Her parents are divorced — hmm, wonder what that could mean? — and a run-in with the law gets her sentenced to the dreaded VGA.

No, not the Video Game Awards, but the Vickerman Gymnastics Academy, run by the no-nonsense Burt Vickerman, played by Jeff Bridges, who starts off like a cross between Tom Landry and Johnny Cash but ends up wearing that beatific smile from "Starman."

Gymnastics, apparently, is full of a lot of silly rules and conformist behavior, and Haley wants no part of it. Burt wants her to consider that she's wasting her talent. The 800-pound gorilla lurking in the room is Haley's walkout two years earlier at the world championships that cost her teammates a gold medal.

Comedy or drama, satire or farce, it's anybody's guess what the film hoped to project. There seems to be a certain reverence for the hard work and discipline that go into elite gymnastics, but at the same time, Bendinger's one-dimensional characters don't reflect terribly well on that world if we are to believe the air-headed athletes, their desperate stage mothers, the ridiculous Eastern European assistant coaches and the prissy, uptight judges.

The stilted, sitcom dialogue is broken up by training and competition montages that are essentially music videos (of which the director is a veteran) meant to distract from how lame the story is. The film strives for some type of a girl-empowerment message that equates trading one type of conformity for another with self-determination but muffs the dismount and stumbles on the landing. In other words, it fails to "Stick It."

'Stick It'

MPAA rating: PG-13 for some crude remarks

A Buena Vista Pictures Distribution release. Writer-director Jessica Bendinger. Producer Gail Lyon. Director of photography Daryn Okada. Editor Troy Takaki.

Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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