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Easily the best teen comedy since the one that started it all, Clueless

Bring It On (2000)
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Bradford, Eliza Dushku, Gabrielle Union, Huntley Ritter, Clare Kramer, and Nathan West
Screenplay: Jessica Bendinger
Producers: Marc Abraham and Thomas A. Bliss
Director: Peyton Reed
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sex-related material and language

Maybe, just maybe, the fact that I was once a cheerleader hopeful has something to do with my utter enjoyment with Peyton Reed's new film, Bring It On. Just maybe. Of course, no one has to have been a cheerleader to notice the magic on the screen during the run of this film. Bring It On is as energetic and fast-paced as 1999's Run Lola Run, without the subtitles. A more appropriate comparison would be 1995's surprise Clueless, which sparked this 5-year long obsession with the high-school comedy. And it took 5 years for those Hollywood types to finally get the formula right again.

In fact, one could call this as the sister of Amy Heckerling's satirical stab at high school politics. In many ways, it shares the same qualities, not to mention the immense charm that can only come from a female writer. Writer Jessica Bendinger has crafted a smart and very funny look at the inner workings of the dreaded cheerleader crowd--admittedly, the most hated clique of them all. Perhaps not as biting as it could be, Bring It On serves as the much needed drink in the drought of teen comedies. And after sitting through Down To You and the slew of very bad teenage angst-ridden tripe, this is just what the doctor ordered: a cheery and bright portrayal of the people you hated in high school.

From the start, you immediately get the sense that Bring It On does not take itself seriously in the slightest. Beginning with a dream sequence which sums up even the most jaded person's view of cheerleaders, Bring It On sets the mood right, and continues to follow the path it has established. By the finale, you may just find yourself standing up and applauding as the cheerleaders finish their competition pieces. The aforementioned dream was the creation of Torrance Shipman (Kirsten Dunst), the newly appointed captain of the Toros' cheerleading squad. The Toros have won five straight Universal Cheerleading Association nationals, and it is Torrance's dream to lead them on for a sixth win. Quickly, that dream becomes a nightmare when one of their prized cheerleaders breaks her leg during a stunt, just a few weeks away from regional competition. Lucky for Torrance, Missy Pantone (Eliza Dushku) recently moved into town, and in one exuberant cheer, explains she is trying out since the school does not have a gymnastics team.

Disaster strikes again when Missy storms out, claiming the Toros stole their routines from the Clovers, East Compton High School's cheerleading squad, who have never been privileged enough to attend regionals. When they take a trip to one of the Clovers' games, Isis (Gabrielle Union), the squad's captain, confronts Torrance, telling her to watch out. "We're going to regionals this year, and we're going to win," she says, with so much conviction that you begin to believe her. Panic-stricken, Torrance hires a professional choreographer to give them a new routine, which turns out to be the worst decision of her short life. Turns out the choreographer has peddled his routine all over the coast, setting up a disaster at regionals. As if that wasn't enough, Torrance is being romanced by Missy's charming brother Cliff (Jesse Bradford), while still in a relationship with her college-bound boyfriend. What's a cheerleader to do?

From here on, the film bursts into overdrive, all leading up to the inevitable showdown at the Nationals. For the first time in months--maybe years--I felt my heart pound with anticipation. Would the Toros win? Or would the Clovers manage to take the gold? This surprisingly suspenseful ending is due mostly to the strong acting by the entire cast. Kirsten Dunst has proven herself one of the most gifted young actresses in Hollywood, certainly on the revolution of achieving her rightful "stardom." Dunst's sheer energy is so catchy that it's hard not to get caught up in the act. Not to by outdone is Gabrielle Union, whose strong will makes us care for her squad as well. Union makes us care that her team has been trashed by not becoming a villain. Instead, she just wants what is best for her squad. Eliza Dushku, mostly known for her turn as Faith in the "Buffy" television series, has a remarkable screen presence, instantly likeable the moment she walks through the door. And Jesse Bradford is perfect as the new love interest. Bradford and Dunst spark on screen more than any two young actors in the last ten Hollywood films. But the real surprise (and I would be hard pressed to find a better phrase than soon-to-be-star) is Huntley Ritter. Ritter is a remarkable find with his stunning good looks--comparable and even superior to Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt combined. And like Cruise and Pitt, his acting is natural and efficient. Watch for this guy to make it big. And last but not least is the trio of girls who make up the music group "Blaque," who help Union steal every scene they are in. It's superior acting for a teen film, which makes us realize what we've been missing the most.

First-timer Bendinger has written a smart screenplay which basically steals the Rocky plot outline and then modifies it for high school. The dialogue is snappy and funny, without ever sounding cliched. Stabs at the generalizations that female cheerleaders are whores and male cheerleaders are gay hit their target head-on. Some have complained that Bendinger's portrayals are stereotypical and prejudiced, although most go unjustified. Bendinger understands that high school is all about stereotypes and cliques--if you are male, and a cheerleader, you must be gay. She exploits the stereotype for the humor, all the while reflecting on how unrealistic most of those stereotypes are. And for those who are sick and tired of high school comedies dealing with romance or prom, here's a film that's actually about something: cheerleading. It's very funny stuff, and only the most cynical will find something wrong here.

Director Peyton Reed is making his feature film debut, and a remarkable one it is. He has assembled an amazing cast to give life to a smart script. From start to finish, his tone and energy is consistent, grabbing and taking us for a joyful ride. There are the typical bumps along the way, but no more so than your average teen-targeted film. His camera lingers on the beauty of the cheerleaders and their routines. The choreography by Anne Fletcher is stunning, from the opening dream to the closing credits which leaves you feeling wonderful inside (who couldn't feel wonderful listening to "Hey, Mickey" while watching the actors prance around?). The climactic competition during the last five minutes is so enthralling you may forget to blink. The use of music and dance captures the attention like no other film this year. It's bound to have you up and on your feet applauding as the competition ends. This is exactly how a movie like this should end. I, for one, am more than grateful.

Bring It On is rated PG-13 for sex-related material and language. There are the usual vomit and fart jokes (although, admittedly, they are quite funny) and the prolonged camera stares at naked flesh (which, admittedly, I did enjoy). However, this is as exuberant and exciting a film as you will see this year. It's funny, it's charming, it's bright, but most importantly, it's sweet. It lets you leave the theater feeling good inside. Maybe I am persuaded by my unrealized cheerleader days... or maybe I'm just persuaded by the fact that this is a very good film. Whatever the reason, I had fun. And isn't that what these summer films are all about?

***1/2 out of ****

Reviews by Boyd Petrie
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