“Bring It On,” a smart and sassy high school movie that’s fun for all ages, opens with Kirsten Dunst’s cheerleader having a dream in which she suddenly realizes that she’s been going through her routines--wearing not a stitch. Actually, a real-life nightmare awaits her.
Her joy at being elected team captain at her high school in a posh San Diego area evaporates when she learns she’ll be leading her team, the Toros, national champ for five years running, into the regionals with a hip-hop routine her predecessor lifted move for move from a Compton high school with which they’ll eventually be competing.
Dunst’s Torrance learns the bad news from Missy (Eliza Dushku), who’s just moved from L.A. and has reluctantly joined the Toros since the school does not offer the gymnastics in which she excels. Missy recognizes the hip-hop routine from the time her former L.A. area high school played football with the Compton team.
The cheerleaders see no recourse but to brazen it out at the regionals, but for the finals Torrance turns to a professional choreographer (Ian Roberts) recommended to her by her ultra-glib boyfriend (Richard Hillman), now at college. Roberts’ Sparky Polastri is a hilarious martinet who takes his moves and look from Bob Fosse, but there’s a hitch with him, too.
“It’s only cheerleading,” Missy reminds the distraught Torrance as the troubles start piling up. “I am only cheerleading,” replies Torrance honestly. This exchange goes to the heart of Jessica Bendinger’s crackling good script, sharply directed by Peyton Reed.
This sun-filled, lively Universal presentation has a light satirical touch, works up lots of laughter, but is not heavy-handed about Torrance and her squad taking cheerleading so seriously. Rather than lament how winning a cheerleading trophy seems vastly more important to the squad members than getting the grades that will get them into college, Bendinger and Reed instead show us the likable Torrance and her pals receiving some unexpected life lessons.
The way the film plays out undercuts suspense as to who’s going to win the nationals trophy, but then the picture subversively suggests that sometimes there are more important values in life than winning. It even dares to suggest that one of the Toros cheerleaders is gay (Huntley Ritter) and comfortable about it.
The filmmakers take the trouble to make that hip-hop squad, the Clovers, integral to their story. Having endured their dynamic routines being ripped off repeatedly, the Clovers this time will be competing in the regionals and are determined to raise the funds that will take them to the finals for which they almost certainly will qualify.
The Clovers’ team leader, Isis (Gabrielle Union), is as proud as she is smart and tough, and her strong presence and character provokes Torrance into unaccustomed reflection about such matters as fair play, social inequities and respect for yourself and others. “Bring It On” can get away with comic exaggeration all the more effectively because of such ballast.
No teen film would be without romance, and as it happens Missy has a brother, Cliff (Jesse Bradford), just as smart as she is and quickly smitten with Torrance but fearing he can’t compete with Hillman’s slick and shallow Aaron.
On target in all aspects, “Bring It On” is a summer tonic arriving in time for Labor Day weekend and just as kids are preparing to head back to school for the fall semester. The timing of the release of “Bring It On,” like everything else about it, seems just right.
* MPAA rating: PG-13, for sex-related material and language. Times guidelines: The film’s occasional sexual references are standard, even comparatively mild, for teen films.
‘Bring It On’
Kirsten Dunst: Torrance Shipman
Eliza Dushku: Missy Pantone
Jesse Bradford: Cliff Pantone
Gabrielle Union: Isis
A Universal Pictures and Beacon Pictures presentation. Director Peyton Reed. Producers Marc Abraham, Thomas A. Bliss, John Ketcham. Executive producers Armyan Bernstein, Max Wong, Caitlin Scanlon, Paddy Cullen. Screenplay Jessica Bendinger. Cinematographer Shawn Maurer. Editor Larry Bock. Music Christophe Beck. Costumes Mary Jane Fort. Production designer Sharon Lomofsky. Art director Timothy Whidbee. Set decorator Jill McGraw. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.
In general release.