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'Bring it On'

Friday, August 25, 2000

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Pretty new head cheerleader Torrance (Kirsten Dunst) has skimpy outfits but big pompons to fill at San Diego's Rancho Carne High School. Its name translates into "Meat Ranch," which seems metaphorically insulting to the girls, but none of them know Spanish anyway, so never mind. All they know is that their squad's razor-sharp choreography and gymnastic routines have won the national cheer championship five years in a row, and Torry can't wait to snag the sixth.

'Bring It On'

RATING: PG-13 for mild profanity and peekaboo outfits

STARRING: Kirsten Dunst, Eliza Dushku, Jesse Bradford, Gabrielle Union

DIRECTOR: Peyton Reed

WEB SITE: www.bringiton

CRITIC'S CALL: 2 stars


A chief-cheerleading gal is a happy gal -- but wait. Torry finds out that, in fact, Rancho Carne's hit routines have been routinely stolen from the Clovers, a hip-hop squad across town at East Compton High, on the other side of the black-white tracks.

A Moral Dilemma thus ripples the waters on Golden Blonde Pond. So does the downbeat persona of Missy (Eliza Dushku), the team's new nonblonde cheergirl with attitude, whose cheerboy-brother (Jesse Bradford) has the hots-and-colds for Torry.

Don't make me go further into the plot. It's more the stuff of an early "Beverly Hills 90210" episode than of a major feature film -- which is not to say it lacks merit. Its producers, to be on the safe marketing side, have dubbed "Bring It On" comedy ("a hilarious look at fear and loathing in the cheerleading world"), but its framework is pure adolescent melodrama, within which a set of "issues" are treated, as teen films go, with uncharacteristic intelligence: The racial, socioeconomic and sex-role themes, for example, include a casual -- rather than heavy-handed -- debunking of male-cheerleader stereotypes.

Director Peyton Reed (hitherto a helmsman of MTV videos and documentaries) handles the kids and routines well, with enough tasteful skin to hold pubescent erotic interest but not enough to get Tipper Gore or George W. Bush riled up. Kirsten Dunst ("Interview With a Vampire," "The Virgin Suicides") doesn't do much for me. Eliza Dushku ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer") -- a preferable vamp -- does more.

Jessica Bendinger's script contains no football game nor, thank God, a prom or a boys' bet about turning some ugly duckling into its queen. The cheerleading world is only a little less airheaded and value-vapid than the prom world -- not quite the vocation akin to brain surgeon, the art form akin to Nureyev's, or the metaphor for freedom rhapsodized herein. But at least its athletic demands make for a sexier, cheap-thrills spectator sport than the election of prom queens.

For that, and the relative plausibility and sincerity of its ending, "Bring It On" may be given certainly not three, but at least one-and-a-half -- possibly two -- cheers.

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