..

BRING IT ON

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Kirsten Dunst, Eliza Dushku, Jessie Bradford, Gabrielle Union
Director:  Peyton Reed
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Video:  Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio:  Universal
Features:  See Review
Length:  99 Minutes
Release Date:  February 13, 2001

Film ***

Bring it On is a fitting comic tonic for anyone who’s ever grown up with the influence of cheerleading in their lives.  I had a younger sister who, like the lead character in this movie, was part of a national championship cheerleading squad.  I can still remember the loud music, the hours of practice in the front yard, the hard work and dedication that went into her routines.  Those who think it’s just a “go, team” and pompon shaking act have never watched the national finals on ESPN.  These kids are part gymnast, part dancer, part stuntman…and they get hang time that would make Michael Jordan envious.

Which is why I was very glad to see this film portray cheerleading in an honest light.  It’s a very funny movie, and to be sure, it kids the aspects of the sport that really ask to be kidded…when her friend Missy  (Dushku) says to squad captain Torrance (Dunst), “It’s only cheerleading,” and she replies, “I AM only cheerleading,” you can’t help but chuckle.  But at the same time, you see her point.

The movie opens with a terrific sequence, where the cheerleading Toros of Rancho Carne High are starring in a pep rally, and saying exactly the kind of cheer we’ve all secretly thought they should be chanting—it’s a hysterical moment that sets the tone of the film beautifully.  It introduces us to most of the main players right off the bat, and goes from there into a nice, easy look at their behind the scenes life.  It’s senior year for new Captain Torrance, and she’s determined for her squad to repeat their multiple national championships.  “We don’t want to just rest on our laurels, do we?” she asks.  “Why does everyone say that?” one of her guys answers.  “Maybe laurels are a good place to rest.”  But she’s determined, and with the help of a newcomer, the reluctant gymnast Missy, the team seems to have all the ingredients it needs.

There’s just one problem:  Torrance learns that all of their routines were stolen by their previous captain from an inner city school!  And that squad, led by the angry but spirited Isis (Union), is looking for some payback this year with their first finals appearance!

Desperate, Torrance opts for the ultimate cheerleading no-no…she hires a choreographer, who turns out to be a sadistic, pill-popping dark side version of Bob Fosse.  “Cheerleaders are basically dancers who have gone retarded,” he smirks.  He soon has them doing a rather intricate but silly routine which they take to state finals…and there they learn that they weren’t the ONLY school to hire this guy, nor were they the only ones to learn that particular routine!

Humiliated and despairing, the nearly broken Torrance soon finds help from her friends, including Missy’s doting punk rock loving brother, Cliff (Bradford).  They bring out in her find the courage to attempt the impossible:  create and learn a brand new routine in time for the nationals.  With time running out and the gauntlet thrown down by the Clovers, will Torrance and the Toros rise to the impossible challenge?  I’ll leave that for you to discover.

This movie made me laugh, and laugh often, with the best kind of humor:  the kind that is derived from truth.  I recognized more in this film than I’d normally care to admit, and it’s a picture that manages to be funny, yet get its subject matter right on all counts.  Bits of fun like the school’s losing football team, where the broadcaster actually announces the upcoming game as “our next defeat”, balance nicely with small, almost throwaway, but significant shots of the squads backstage praying before they go on, or in some cases, getting sick from their nerves (yeek!). 

The cast is first rate, and peopled with characters I really liked.  Ms. Dunst brings just the right mix of perk and seriousness to her role as Torrance…she comes across as hopelessly spirited, but never ditzy because of it.  And Ms. Dushku brings a real sharpness to Missy, who grows from the antithesis of a cheerleader to one of the squad’s best when her friendship with Torrance brings out that side of her.  And kudos to Mr. Bradford as Cliff, who manages to be a teenage movie love interest without falling into any of the standard cliché’s.  He’s not a nerd or a confidence case…his character is funny, charming and at ease with himself.  At least Bring it On doesn’t leave us scratching our head wondering why the leading lady falls for the guy in the end.

The first hour is extremely well paced, with the laughs coming in rapid fire fashion.  It loses a bit of comic momentum leading into the state finals sequence, however, and almost dissipates into standard sports movie standbys, such as showing the routines in slow motion with choppy editing, so we don’t really get a sense of what the squads are doing.  But closer to the climax at nationals, it finds its rhythm again, picking up the pace and finally letting us see what these kids have supposedly worked on for so long.  I liked it.  Even better, I liked the end credits, where outtakes are mixed with a blend of both Toros and Clovers’ cheerleaders doing a routine together to the tune of “Mickey”.  And speaking of “Mickey”, just for fun, keep an eye out for Toni Basil as one of the judges!

Overall, I’d have to say Bring it On is one of the better entries in the recent crop of teenage comedies.  Some critics didn’t care for it, but I don’t know if they fully appreciated how close to the truth this movie actually got.  While not exactly being a tribute to cheerleaders, it pokes fun at them in honest and good spirited ways, while giving them a voice and a chance to show the world exactly what it is they do, and why they work so hard at it.

Video ****

This is a stellar anamorphic transfer from Universal.  The images are sharp and crystal clear throughout, with no distortions or softness anywhere.  The color palate is wide and vibrant, and every shade renders beautifully and naturally, with brightness and no evidence of bleeding.  Compression artifacts are non existent:  no grain, no shimmer, and no chroma noise.  The print itself is quite clean and free from distracting dirt, scratches and debris.  All in all, this is an excellent, vibrant, and reference quality picture.

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 soundtrack (choice of Dolby Digital or DTS) is mostly used for the music, and it’s more than serviceable.  The high energy dance tunes pound out from all sides:  loud, clear, and with strong dynamic range and good use of the .1 channel for extra bass.  Dialogue clarity is excellent, and I noticed no noise or interference.  Discreet channel use isn’t overly apparent, but the enveloping effect the audio gives to the music is the soundtrack’s real treat, and in that department, it delivers beautifully.

Features ****

Collector’s Edition discs from Universal mean features galore, and this one’s no exception.  For starters, the commentary track with director Peyton Reed is a real treat.  He’s an enthusiastic and funny speaker, with plenty of good stories to tell, including what it was like working with the actors, how they learned their routines, bouts with the MPAA over what they could keep in and maintain a PG 13 rating, and so on.  There is also a new feature called “Did You Know That?”…a subtitle feature that, when activated, lets you watch the film a la Pop-Up Video, with lots of interesting factoids and trivia bits appearing on screen as you watch.  There is also a Spotlight On Location featurette, boasting interviews with most of the cast and crew, a collection of deleted and extended scenes, never-before-seen home movies of the film’s car wash sequence, some makeup and costume tests, a music video “As If”, by Blaque (whose members appear in the film as Clovers), a trailer, and some DVD ROM supplements.  A terrific package!

Summary:

Bring it On is a funny and mostly on-the-mark teenage comedy that takes a close look at the world of competitive cheerleading.  With a superb, winning cast and great sense of energy, there’s more than enough entertainment to make for a great night in with the DVD player.  Be aggressive, B-E aggressive and give this disc a spin.