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Published: Friday, 4/28/2006

Movie review: Stick It **


We're all friends here, right?

I can tell you anything, right?

Good, because my favorite movies of all time, are as follows, in this order, The Sound of Music, Gone With the Wind, Doctor Zhivago, The Ten Commandments, Yentel, and Bring It On. This puts much pressure on Jessica Bendinger, the writer of Bring It On - which I saw twice in one day, just because.

The director, Peyton Reed, didn't seem to care that he was making a movie marketed to Kirsten Dunst devotees. He acted as if he were making a Busby Berkeley musical; I picture him behind the scenes screaming at his nervous young stars to smile, alternating geometric choreography with locker rooms, heartless cheerleaders, and sharp wit.

There's freedom in not caring.

There can be, anyway.

Stick It features Bendinger as writer and director and is a bit more charming than its acerbic title. But it cares too much, even though it's about that same freedom of not worrying what others think. Or wait, perhaps it's about learning to appreciate what others think? Thinking beyond one's own nose? The struggle between knowing your boundaries and pushing at their walls? Knowing your song well, as Dylan once sang, before you start singing?

Oddly, it's also about gymnastics, and it makes a valiant attempt to capture the spunkiness of Bring It On. Except the sarcastic wit of that film is replaced with caustic sarcasm (every line drips with bile or sincerity, which gets tedious). And the older film's utter lack of a message is replaced with messages piled so high, I couldn't decide if it's about kicking or embracing authority. I like films about sticking it to the man as much as the next jerk. But please, stick it without any compromises attached. (It may be realistic but unless the film is about compromise, it's dramatically dull.)

Jeff Bridges, as the gymnastics coach, looks confused, too. He also looks incongruous and sort of angry at times, as if someone called in a favor, now he's stuck making this movie, which is not bad, just less provocative than it seems to think, and without a character to cheer for. The primary focus is Haley (Missy Peregrym, even more self-serious than your ordinary teen, and the actress is 24, too). She's a world-class gymnast who ditched the scene for flipping in the air on a bike and juvenile delinquency, but she gets thrown back in when she's offered a choice of military school in Texas or gymnastics.

She begs for Texas. The judge has other plans.

So Haley slowly adapts to life under Jeff Bridges and becomes a rock and roll gymnast who wears Ramones shirts (that look a day old, poseur). She teaches the other robotic gymnasts the value of self-expression. The rest is pretty much what you'd expect. Except I get the sense Bendinger ran into a problem midway through her script. Despite the graceful leaps and twirls, self-expression is not the point of gymnastics.

Art is about self-expression.

Sport is about excelling within a set of rules. There may be art in sports, but at the end of the day, there are refs, umpires, and judges. Stick It is most interesting when it gets mad at those judges, who have standards to adhere to - this is the judge's job.

That revelation leads to a revolt at the big competition, and a movie that's not all that different from, oh, V For Vendetta. This is the second film this spring where the message (I think) isn't to work together and beat them at their own game. The message is tear down the game, toss out the rules, and replace it with a new game that values the individual.

Can't say I disagree, but then there's something happening here but what it is ain't exactly clear. No, seriously, it's not clear.

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