“Big Red ran the show, man. We were just flying ignorami, for sobbing out loud.”
I think this might be the first review I’ve written on a dare. Somehow, the rest of the DVD Verdict reviewing team thought that I, of all people, should review a movie about cheerleaders pitched directly toward the Britney Spears set. “Yeah, that Mike, he’ll review anything,” they seemed to think. Well, I fart in their general direction, because I actually enjoyed Bring It On, and I’ve brought along two visual aids to illustrate just why.
bikini car wash
Woo hoo! Eliza Dushku in a bikini! Eliza Dushku looking very fetching in a cheerleader outfit! Eliza Dushku in a tank top! Eliza Dushku in midriff-baring t-shirts! Be still my beating heart! Ahem. I’m better now. I honestly thought about writing this entire review about the goodness that is Eliza Dushku, but I thought you’d find an actual appraisal of the movie more appealing than my Lester Burnham-esque daydreaming.
Okay, so that little bit of teenaged exploitation aside, here’s Exhibit B:
See, now you’re puzzled. First I give you a striking young lady in a bikini, and then I throw the ending credits at you? What am I thinking? What indeed…
Bring It On focuses on the antics of a five-time national champion cheerleading squad in San Diego, California. Torrance (Kirsten Dunst) is the newly crowned captain of the squad. When one of the girls breaks her leg on the first day of practice, Torrance must find a replacement. Enter Missy (mmm…Eliza Dushku), a streetwise chick who just transferred to the school from Los Angeles. Despite the protests of the rest of the squad, Torrance recruits the talented gymnast with no prior cheering experience. However, this poses a problem when Missy remarks that their routines seem remarkably familiar…because the former captain had been stealing them from a predominantly black high school in inner city Compton. Torrance, ever the air-headed font of morality, decrees that they must abandon the purloined routines and find fresh material in time to win their sixth national championship.
Bring It On is a hard-hitting exposé into the shady underbelly of the cheerleading world. Hmm. Maybe not really “hard-hitting,” but parts are shady and there are lots of bellies on display. More appropriately, it does for cheerleading what Drop Dead Gorgeous did for beauty pageants — it looks at something inherently funny to outsiders in a comedic light, except without the mean-spiritedness of Drop Dead Gorgeous. (Oh, and by the way, I also really liked Drop Dead Gorgeous; the two movies would make a very good double-feature.)
There’s very little that is original about Bring It On. We’ve seen cheerleader cattiness, teenaged coquettes, the tribulations of sports teams on their way to the championship, tensions between privileged white kids and struggling inner city black kids, bikini car washes, and the halting steps to high school romance before in countless movies. So, what makes it worth watching? Its energy, its pluckiness, its charm. This movie is infectious, but in a good way. From the opening scene with its wacky, only-in-a-movie cheerleading routine (“Who am I? Just guess! Boys want to touch my chest! I’m rockin’! I smile! And many think I’m vile!”), I surfed its wave of positive vibes. It’s incredibly obvious that all involved had a blast making the movie, and that energy makes it easy to overlook its no-brainer script that trots out as many clichés as it does young vixens.
Kirsten Dunst is unparalleled at playing air-headed teenagers — reference Drop Dead Gorgeous or Dick and you’ll see what I mean. Then again, those movies give the audience a sly nod and wink, like they’re in on the joke. Obviously, so is she, as she turned the cliché on its ear with the overlooked 1999 gem The Virgin Suicides. She’s been in films for a long time; her first role of note was in Woody Allen’s segment of New York Stories at seven, and she blew Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise off the screen at age twelve in Interview With The Vampire. She has yet to experience that awkward period many young actors go through, when roles are hard to find as they shift from displaying the talents valued in kids to the talents valued in adult actors. I have a feeling she’ll be with us for a long time to come. Torrance could be a one-note performance, but Kirsten makes it more of a rocking four-chord number. She’s believable and earnest, and in turn we believe in her too.
Likewise, the rest of the cast is also believable and earnest. Particularly noteworthy are Jesse Bradford, Gabrielle Union, and (of course) Eliza Dushku. Jesse Bradford also has a clichéd role foisted upon him: the aloof, iconoclastic potential boyfriend. It’s not unlike Paul Rudd’s Josh in Clueless, except instead of the incestuous overtones of his relationship with Alicia Silverstone’s character, he’s the brother of Torrance’s quickly-becoming best friend Missy. However, he seems genuine, and he has fun with the role, so it’s hard to fault him. Gabrielle Union’s role is sorely underwritten. She plays the captain of the East Compton squad from whom all the privileged white kids stole their routines. She has fire in her eyes, and is determined that the best team is going to win. However, we don’t get enough of her, so the tension and rivalry and professional respect between her and Torrance isn’t developed adequately. And last but certainly not least, Eliza Dushku. Most of you who are familiar with her will either remember her as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s daughter in True Lies or (more likely) as the vampire slayer Faith in the TV version of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Now, I’ve never been a fan of that show (I prefer the movie, and I hope someone at Fox deigns it worthy of release in the near future), but the one or two times I’ve watched it it was because I was captivated by Eliza. Those eyes…that smile…magic. Add to that the things I’ve read about her, particularly Kevin Smith’s comments about how damn cool she is in his column at Psycomic (linked at right…do yourself a favor and read it), and I was all too willing to watch her in this movie. Oh, she can act too.
Bring It On is the feature debut of director Peyton Reed. However, he has a long and varied career directing documentaries and television series and movies. For Robert Zemeckis he directed making-of documentaries about Forrest Gump and the Back To The Future series. He’s also been involved with the iconoclastic (wow, two opportunities to use that word in one review) sketch comedy series Upright Citizens Brigade and Mr. Show. He has a firm, steady hand as director. He toes the line between outright farce and stereotypical teen film with aplomb, and the end result is a movie that will likely entertain all but the most stuffy or demanding viewer.
As for Universal’s DVD efforts, this disc will also satisfy all but the pickiest people. The film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic. No digital problems were noted. Colors were reproduced faithfully with no bleeding and faultless saturation. Shadow detail was excellent. I didn’t see any dust or scratches on the print. As far as I could tell, the image quality was perfect. Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS. The Dolby Digital track, one could quibble, is rather forward-centric like most comedies, but it has the added oomph needed for the pulsing music, which also extends out into the surrounds. Dialogue is never lost in the mix, and the audio level is consistent throughout. I could not test the DTS track, but I’m sure you can assume, as usual, that it’s just that much better than the Dolby Digital.
For extras, you get a commentary track, one of those Universal “Spotlight on Location” featurettes, several deleted scenes and alternate takes, a home video of the bikini car wash scene, a music video by Blaque (whose members appear as part of the East Compton cheer squad), cool “Pop-Up Video” style anecdotes during the movie, and DVD-ROM features. Most of the features were fun, but forgettable. Noteworthy, though, is the commentary track and the pop-up anecdotes. Director Peyton Reed provides the commentary. He is a treasure trove of information about the movie, and shares quite a bit about the making of the movie. It’s a fun listen too, as he is quite amusing. In fact, the commentary is the reason I included Exhibit B above, the picture of the credits. As the end credits roll, he goes off on this tangent that at first I thought was serious, but quickly realized was an incredibly funny joke. I’ll let you listen to it to discover for yourself. You’ll never look at end credits in the same way. For added fun, watch the commentary track in conjunction with the pop-up anecdotes. They were written by one of the producers, who seemed to have an unhealthy fixation on Nicole Bilderback, the actress who played cheerleader Whitney. Nary a moment she’s on screen goes by that we don’t get some little detail about her life, the etymology of her last name, et cetera. We’re given every detail about her except her cup size, which I’m sure was only omitted out of extreme self-control.
Lest you think I’m either a pervert or have been hanging out in Eugene’s famous, fabled meth labs, here’s the negatives I can find with the movie.
I suppose one could fault Bring It On for the same mistakes many other Hollywood movies make, namely its overuse of clichés and its predictability. I think that’s just par for the course. Most people will concede that there are only a limited number of story types, so it’s in the details that you get originality. Here, those details were more than satisfying.
More germane to the movie, I was a tad annoyed that the racial tension was introduced into the story at all, especially considering it was dealt with in such a superficial way. Something like that that is bound to provoke emotional or intellectual responses in the audience should not be used as a punchline, and should be dealt with a modicum of respect if they are going to be used as an element of the plot. It doesn’t cheapen the movie, nor does it seem at all racist, but it should have been dealt with to the satisfaction of those who would notice.
Bring It On is one of the movies that is used as an example of the cheapening of the PG-13 rating. For one such argument, read Roger Ebert’s review of the film, which I’ve linked at right. Personally, I really do not agree. It’s doubtful anyone would have attempted to make a comedy about cheerleaders that would have anything other than teenagers as its target demographic. There is no material in this movie that would be out of place anywhere on television, save the occasional profanity and overuse of the “flipping the bird” gesture. (I’ll never miss a chance to make a Simpsons reference, so to paraphrase Principal Skinner, “What is it with you kids and that gesture?”) Girls in swimsuits? Please! Haven’t you ever heard of Baywatch? Girls in their underwear? Have you ever seen the Victoria’s Secret commercials during prime time TV? There isn’t even a hint of sexual activity, save a few sly innuendos or overt references to oral sex. Next to American Pie, this is the friggin’ Brady Bunch, and don’t even bother to mention that American Pie was rated R, because there’s no way you’re going to convince me that movie was not made exclusively for teenagers.
Normally I don’t bother to look at DVD-ROM extras, but since I had the disc at my office to make the above screenshots, I tried to give the DVD-ROM stuff a spin. It crashed while initializing on my Windows 2000 system. Your results may vary, but I just thought I’d warn you.
Lighten up and enjoy life a little, and at least give Bring It On a rental. Those who do not should be advised to report to the nearest medical facility to have the stick surgically removed from their buttocks. Bring It On is watchable for many reasons, not the least of which is its sense of humor. You’ll have fun with it.
If you need further convincing, perhaps this will cinch the deal. Bring It On‘s $10 million budget was too low to afford to license current pop songs, so there is not a Backstreet Boy or Britney in sight. They did spend $42,000 to license Warrant’s “Cherry Pie” though, and Clash t-shirts and posters are very visible. Rock the Kasbah, baby!
Damn it, I wish I didn’t have to take this back to Blockbuster…
Universal and the makers of Bring It On are acquitted, and are commended for a fine DVD and a fun movie. Eliza Dushku is detained for, ah, further questioning. Court is adjourned.