This comedy about gymnastics is supposed to take place in Texas–the Dallas suburb of Plano and the Houston area–but it was shot in southern California (the mountains in the distance in some the outdoor scenes are as inappropriate here as they were in the “X-Files” movie). The effect’s entirely proper, though, since it makes the picture look as unreal as its narrative plays .
Writer-director Jessica Bendinger, whose script for “Bring It On” (directed by other hands) did a number on cheerleading, explains in the press materials that she was a competitive gymnast herself between the ages of nine and twelve, so one presumes that she had some actual experience to draw on. But whatever she remembers she certainly set aside in favor of pure formula in cobbling together this screenplay (which she’s directed herself, clumsily). The heroine is Haley Graham (Missy Peregrym), a rowdy, rude, risk-taking extreme-bicyclist tomboy constantly getting into trouble with her goofy pals Frank (Kellan Lutz) and Poot (John Patrick Amedori). One of her destructive pranks at a construction site brings her before a judge, who gives her a choice between juvie and a gymnastic camp–it seems that she was once nationally ranked in the field, until she dropped out of a championship meet abruptly, ruining the team’s chance for the gold and earning her lots of enmity from the other team members in the process. (It will be revealed later that her disappearing act, and her transformation into super-surly rebel, resulted from her parents’ breakup after her pushy mother shacked up with her coach.)
So Haley reluctantly goes off to the camp run by demanding coach Burt Vickerman (Jeff Bridges). Initially she refuses to put in any serious effort, but eventually she strikes a deal with him: if she trains properly, he’ll take her to a tournament and let her use the prize money to pay off her restitution to the court and gain her freedom. She gets back into shape despite the catty criticism of rival Joanne (Vanessa Lengies), and the squad goes off to the meet, where Haley must contend with Tricia Skilken (Tarah Paige), her ex-team member who still resents the abandonment of years ago. The big finale comes when Haley organizes a unique sort of protest against the staid, hidebound decisions of the judges; and naturally she eventually bonds with the idiosyncratic Vickerman, finding in him the surrogate parental figure she obviously needs. In a word, she’s transformed again, this time much for the better.
It’s hard to watch a good actor like Bridges go overboard trying to make something out of a stock part like Coach Vickerman. He’s wise enough to recognize that playing the role straight would be boring as heck, so he fills it with more tics and shuffles than he’s put into anything since “Starman,” and since this character’s supposed to be authentically human, the result’s more than a tad embarrassing. Peregrym might be likable under better circumstances, but here she comes across as intensely irritating in the first half of the picture, when Haley’s a mean girl, and even more so after she turns nice. (The fact that she has to narrate the movie, spoon-feeding us information, is no help.) Lengies goes the stridently stupid route as catty Joanna, whose lame malapropisms are among Bedlinger’s worst inventions, and Lutz and Amedori do an under-age version of “Dude, Where’s My Car?” as Haley’s chums. For symmetry’s sake, there’s an equally goofy female pair among the gymnasts–Nikki Soohoo as Wei Wei, who doesn’t do airhead double-takes as much as triple and quadruple ones, and Maddy Curley as blonde simpleton Mina. Technically the movie is okay, though the use of stunt doubles is rather obvious, especially when cinematographer Daryn Okada and editor Troy Takaki cut ostentatiously to waist-down shots as the physical tricks get complicated in a vain effort to conceal that the cast isn’t really performing the stunts (call it the “Footloose” effect).
Tween girls might enjoy “Stick It.” And so may older men who don’t mind narrative vacuity and whose predilections run to watching well-toned young females prancing around in leotards. But for most viewers, the title will represent more a dismissive injunction addressed to them than the slang term for a perfect gymnastic landing the notes tell us it is, because cast and crew together take a nasty spill with this piece of acrobatic formula fluff.