To which the only reasonable retort, I’m afraid, is “Throw it out!” (although, given the number of nubile young things on display here, a different sort of viewer might be tempted to shout “Take it off!”). Frantic but deadly dull, crass but simultaneously straining for charm, and smarmy while adopting a pose of feigned innocence, Peyton Reed’s highschool comedy is a washout on almost every count. It’s about the tribulations of Torrance (Kirsten Dunst), the sweet-natured captain of a champion highschool cheerleading team who learns that the squad’s routines were all stolen by her predecessor from an inner-city competitor. Being basically a good kid, she tries to correct the situation while also gradually dumping her philandering boyfriend and linking up instead with oh-so-sarcastic Cliff Pantone (Jessie Bradford), a new transfer student whose gymnast sister Missy (Eliza Dushku) joins the team and becomes her best friend.
If all this sounds terribly obvious and clunky, that’s because it is. Jessica Bendinger’s script doesn’t seem to have a clue about how to shape the material, and apart from the four leads (including, in addition to the three already mentioned, shapely Gabrielle Union as the hardbitten but ultimately friendly leader of the inner-city squad), she’s constructed a screenful of stereotypical characters (the bitchy team members, the gay guys on the squad, the dumb jocks, the nasty little brother, the clueless parents, the unfaithful boyfriend) who seem nothing more than crude copies of exemplars drawn from the John Hughes playbook. She also counts on the notion that audiences will be willing to accept cheerleading as an authentic athletic event in which they should make the same sort of emotional investment as in other sports; but on the basis of the sequences shown here, which are certainly energetic but also quite repetitious and finally rather boring, that’s a very dubious proposition. And she offers a finale which, while very nice and certainly politically correct, falls pretty flat.
On the other hand, there’s an occasionally amusing line of dialogue, usually involving teen slang, and the main performers are a likable lot, even though they’re trapped in a wretched script. Dunst isn’t nearly as much fun as she was in “Dick” or “Drop Dead Gorgeous,” since a spunky goody-two-shoes like Torrance offers little opportunity to cut loose, but she’s still an attractive, pleasant screen presence. Bradford, in what could have been a really dreary part, is amiably goofy, but it’s quite a comedown from his turn in Steven Soderbergh’s wonderful “King of the Hill.” Dushku, who plays Faith on the WB “Buffy” series, is surprisingly ingratiating as Missy, and Union manages a nice combination of sass and intelligence as Torrance’s rival. Nobody else in the cast makes much of an impression besides Cody McMains, who steals several scenes (petty theft, indeed) as Torrance’s spiteful little bro, and Ian Roberts, who grotesquely overplays an arrogant, mean-mouthed choreographer brought in to teach the squad some new moves. He’s certainly memorable, but for all the wrong reasons.
Mainly because of its personable young leads, “Bring It On” isn’t quite as dreadful as it might have been (or as lousy as “But I’m a Cheerleader,” the painful would-be comedy about a squad member sent to an indoctrination camp because of her lesbian leanings). But periodically it reaches an almost unbelievably low level (perhaps most notably in an overextended scene, obviously meant as a variation on the famously sensual eating sequence from Tony Richardson’s “Tom Jones,” wherein Torrance and Cliff brush their teeth together and take turns ostentatiously spitting into the sink). And it’s adding insult to injury when, after the lame plot has reached its big finish, the makers see fit to tack on a full five minutes of outtakes and shots of cast members lipsynching in supposedly humorous formations to the sounds of “Mickey.” That’s rather like being forced to repeat a root canal after the anesthetic has worn off.