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Bring It On

Kirsten Dunst in a film about cheerleading? Huh? What's going on here? Aside from some strange career moves, Dunst usually does a good job of picking out roles. And apparently, she still does. Thanks to a self-deprecating script and some witty lines, Bring It On is a perky step above most of the other teen trash that fills the screens. Usually, the movie hinges on the outcome of the big game (football, basketball...); this time, it is the National Cheerleading Title. The students at Rancho Carne (yes, that's Spanish for Meat Ranch) High are defending champions going for their sixth straight title win. Their captain, Torrance Shipman (Dunst, Dick, The Virgin Suicides) discovers their award-winning routine was stolen from another high school in East Compton.

This year, the East Compton Clovers will be at the competition. Torrance is adamant about not using the stolen cheers, much to the dismay of some of her fellow Rancho Carne Toros. Enter Missy Pantone (Eliza Dushku, Soul Survivors, WB's Buffy the Vampire Slayer), a new student who transferred from Los Angeles. She reluctantly joins the squad because there is no gymnastics program at Rancho Carne. Pantone is not the stereotypical cheerleader. She is the tough girl/outsider character necessary for teen movies to function. Her brother, Cliff (Jesse Bradford, A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries, Hackers) is also an outsider. He is thoughtful and listens to punk music. He intrigues Torrance, but she is already dating someone, a cheerleader who just graduated and is in college. Any guesses on what's going to happen between Torrance and Cliff? Torrance and crew must put aside their differences and come up with a new cheer in time for the competition. Their first plan to hire a choreographer backfires, so they must then undergo a Rocky-like training regimen to prepare.

Most of the characters are the typical high school templates. None of them are particularly smart. Shipman exhibits something of a conscience, and Missy, by nature of her character, is the original thinker. The rest of the cheerleaders are sheep. The originality comes in the subject matter. The football team here sucks. The ironic thing is that the fans come to football games to cheer for the cheerleaders. And for once, a gay student isn't stereotyped to death. First-time screenwriter Jessica Bendinger also has a knack for writing snippets of clever dialogue. There are some great one-liners hidden amongst an otherwise slightly above-average script. The story falters when it veers away from satire and returns to more boring topics like Shipman's love life. Dunst is okay at Shipman. She delivers her lines hyperactively, furthering the parody aspects of the story. Dushku is a little different. For most of her roles, she seems to play the same bad-girl. So is she acting or is this how she really is? Gabrielle Union (10 Things I Hate About You, She's All That) plays Isis, the captain of the rival Clovers. Her character is probably more interesting than most of the Toros, but she is given far too little screen time.

The best thing that Bring It On has going for it is its unrelenting energy. Shipman, Pantone, and the other cheerleaders fly across the screen, leaping, jumping, and generally dancing non-stop. The final sequence between the Clovers and the Toros (it's not a huge spoiler to say that the two will vie for first place) is an exhilarating piece of choreography, hampered only by a few bad shots. Bring It On does show some of the fiercer competitive aspects of cheerleading (enough to rival any sport) but all the actors display a genuine earnestness which comes across in their performances. Still, director Peyton Reed accomplished what many thought impossible: he helped make a teen movie that is enjoyable.

Haro Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 35 minutes, Rated PG-13 for sex-related material and language.

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