Worth A Look: 34.75%
Pretty Bad: 4.63%
Total Crap: 8.88%
13 reviews, 181 user ratings
|Bring It On
by Andrew Howe
I am often mystified by the activities which American teenagers deem worthy of their time and effort, and as evidence for the prosecution I offer the following: high-school marching bands; sweltering summer camps built on insect breeding grounds with unpronounceable names (featuring swimming, singing and optional dismemberment at the hands of machete-wielding maniacs); and fun-loving college fraternities (which appear to revolve around two-fisted beer-swilling and jolly pranks which result in permanent injury and/or degradation to the lucky recipient), none of which, to my knowledge, are a feature of any other country in the civilised world.To the above you can add semi-professional cheerleading, complete with national competitions and acrobatic routines which would give the Flying Wallendas pause for thought. Lest you think Iím making this up, I refer you to page 15 of the press kit for the latest feel-good teenage flick Bring it On, which states that the actors prepared for their roles by spending several weeks in a professional cheerleading camp, under the tutelage of ďveteran cheer coach Ray Jasper, as well as Ö choreographer Ann Fletcher and hip-hop choreographer High HatĒ. Only in America, my friends.
"Fluff never tasted so good"
That selfsame press kit describes the film as a ďa hilarious look at fear and loathing in the cheerleading worldĒ, which is actually a good deal more hilarious than ninety percent of the script Ė the thought of a group of lascivious school-age females tipping their hats to Hunter S. Thompson by indulging in a twisted, drug-fuelled odyssey is, I must admit, an appealing one. Alas, the film is nowhere near as warped as that quote might suggest, but I am genuinely surprised to report that it rises above its uninspired premise and ostensible market (which, from the screening I attended, appears to be teenage girls and a few guys hoping in vain for a little gratuitous nudity) to become a perfectly watchable piece of fluff which is worth considering for those long and lazy summer afternoons.
The plot revolves around the Toro cheerleading squad, whose highly original routines have seen them scoop the last five national championships. Unfortunately for their new captain, Torrance (Kirsten Dunst), it transpires that her predecessor stole said routines (including their latest) from the East Compton Clovers, a supremely talented outfit from the wrong side of the tracks. Aided and abetted by grungy new recruit Missy (Eliza Dushku), the stage is set for our idiotically-named duo to come up with a winning routine in time for the national championships, which are, of course, mere weeks away.
The scriptwriter, Jessica Bendinger, made a very intelligent decision when penning her latest opus, which is that chronicling the road to the nationals is all that the film is about. Thereís no teenage angst; no morality plays involving absentee parents, drug habits or sexual exploration; no pithy asides on the fear of the future experienced by most students in their final year of high school Ė the only distraction is a vague romantic subplot which is so sketchy that itís really not worth getting too concerned about.
You might imagine that the absence of depth would be a reason to disparage the film, and to be fair itís certainly nothing to praise. However, the fact remains that there is not enough time in a 90 minute feature to give all of these issues the respect they deserve. Itís no coincidence that the most notable teenage flicks concentrate on a single theme Ė if you want to see a film about teenage romance then you reach for Say Anything, and if itís a portrait of those confusing teenage years youíre after then you need look no further than Looking for Alibrandi (or, in a pinch, something like The Breakfast Club). Bring it On is about neither of these things Ė itís about rising to a challenge, and the fact that it focuses on this single concept ensures it avoids charges of canvassing serious issues in a half-baked fashion.
The fact that said concept is nothing to get excited about is mitigated by the filmís ability to score an average mark in every major area of its endeavours. It may not excel at anything, but then it doesnít crash and burn either, and there are many potentially noteworthy films which have been scuttled by poor showings in a single aspect of their production. And in case youíre wondering what those aspects might be, we need look no further than:
I have lost track of the number of times Iíve watched a film about teenagers which made me want to punch the little twerps in the face before itís half-over. Thankfully, the individuals in Bring it On are a likeable bunch, the kind of people you could see yourself having a beer with without feeling the need to smash the glass over their heads. Sure, thereís the occasional outburst which makes you want to slap some sense into them (the defiant ďThatís your life, not mine!Ē response to a parentís request to bring up the grades at the expense of a truly important activity like cheerleading, for example), but by and large they act in a manner which is conducive to supporting them in their quest for glory.
I would also be remiss if I didnít make special mention of the male characters, who are a refreshing change from the sex-crazed retards who populate films like American Pie, and the fact that teachers and parents who ďjust donít understand the youth of todayĒ are conspicuous by their absence.
OK, so theyíre not consummate performers (the highlight of their combined resumes are the likes of Buffy and Dick), but they go a long way towards making the abovementioned characters the jolly bunch they turned out to be. Dunst is well-suited to the role of an attractive prig (make of that what you will), and Dushkuís enjoyable, in-your-face performance ensures she dominates every scene in which she appears. Jesse Bradford tackles the role of the sensitive love-interest with the air of someone who has been studying Cusackís back catalogue (obviously heís not in the same league, but at least he makes the effort), and Gabrielle Union is just fine as the tough-as-nails leader of the Clovers. Only Dushku truly excels, but then nobody falls on their face either, and thatís more than can be said for many recent films which cost twice as much to bring to the screen.
The humour ranges from moments which are as good as anything out there (a sequence involving a crazed choreographer is worth the price of admission alone) to puerile, lowbrow episodes which will have viewers cringing in their seats (anything involving Torranceís little brother). However, thereís enough on display to ensure that anyone searching for a good laugh will not be entirely dissatisfied.
The road to the nationals is not as inspiring as one might imagine, making the finale a surprisingly ho-hum affair, but there is actually a positive side to the filmís restraint. Bendinger resists the urge to paint success at the nationals as the equivalent of winning the 100 metre sprint at the 1924 Olympics, preferring to show it for what it is Ė important to the participants, but a long way from a life-or-death situation. This is a good thing, for anything else would have invited ridicule, and as a result itís surprisingly easy to credit the filmís basic premise (I might add that the Torosí performance at the regionals is artfully constructed, and will have most viewers squirming in sympathetic embarrassment, which is not an emotion you expect to experience at a film like this).
Iím still not convinced that cheerleading is the domain of artistes, but the actual performance pieces, when combined with the pounding soundtrack, get the blood pumping to a suitable degree. Itís also worth mentioning that music is used to good effect throughout the film, especially in enlivening the otherwise-forgettable training sequences.
All of the above is enough to ensure the film cannot be classified as a failure, but one other aspect sees me award it, against the odds, a score which falls within the upper echelons of average. It is, in a word, exuberance, which is something the film has in spades. Everyone appears to be having a whale of a time, a fact which is underscored by a hugely enjoyable sequence over the closing credits which sees the entire cast prancing around to Toni Basilís Mickey (I could have lived without the bloopers, but thatís another matter). This enthusiasm rubs off on the viewer, and the pounding music and entertaining dance routines which pepper the film ram it home.
Look, itís like this Ė if I labelled this film an unqualified success my credibility would suffer a blow from which it might never recover, but the fact remains that it sees you from the cinema in an upbeat mood, and if you forget it five minutes later then thatís neither here nor there. It delivers what it promises, which is an agreeable diversion unsullied by undue depth or hidden meaning, and there are times when thatís exactly what our world-weary souls require.Some expect great things from a film, others expect the worst. Bring it On splits the difference, and while the glass may be half-empty, itís worth remembering that, in the words of cognitive therapists everywhere, itís never less than half-full.
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originally posted: 12/14/00 18:26:42