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Life Inspires Story With Some ‘Kick’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Take Kirsten Dunst’s 2000 cheerleader romp “Bring It On,” give it a hip-hop Hispanic make-over to attract the growing legions of young urban Latino viewers and, voila, you have tonight’s Disney Channel movie, “Gotta Kick It Up” (8 p.m.).

But as formulaic as it may sound, the idea for the film didn’t come from the Mouse’s marketing department but from the true-life experiences of Meghan Cole, who with this effort makes her co-producing debut.

Prior to joining the Walt Disney Co., Cole was involved with the nonprofit Teach for America program that places instructors in under-resourced schools across the country. Cole, who has a master’s degree in education from Harvard University, landed at Nimitz Middle School in Huntington Park, where she started the campus’ first competitive dance program.

Although “Gotta Kick It Up” was “inspired by” her experiences at Nimitz, the movie is set at fictitious Marshall Middle School, where a new teacher (Susan Egan as Miss Bartlett), still brushing away the ashes from a dot-com job that went down in flames, finds herself with a whole new set of challenges.

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Talked into taking an after-school post as head of the dance team, she runs up against some talented but undisciplined girls who she must win over before she can begin the formidable task of molding them into a team.

The film feels a bit uneven through the first third, with some of the conflicts seeming forced and the characterizations on the thin side.

But as the girls improve, the movie finds its own rhythm behind the direction of Ramon Menendez (“Stand and Deliver”).

Helping things along is a strong performance by Camille Guaty as Miss Bartlett’s chief nemesis, Daisy Salinas. Guaty (from Nickelodeon’s “Raising Dad”) is a talent to keep your eye on.


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