May 4, 2006

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Stick It (PG-13)
Teenage-girl gymnasts fight The Man and also Conformity (represented here by bad parents and persnickety judges) with nothing but spunk and leotards in Stick It, a film written and directed by Jessica Bendinger.

Bendinger wrote Bring It On, a film Stick It clearly wants to be. But while that collection of teenage cattiness, cheerleading spectacle and teen-movie-cheese is a giddy masterpiece I could watch a thousand times and never tire of, Stick It is too much sass and not enough substance.

For one thing, Haley Graham (Missy Peregrym) might be a stunt-bike-riding girl who is part diva, part hooligan but she has neither the sunny, steely perkiness of Torrance (played with Reese Witherspoon intensity by Kirsten Dunst) nor the what-you-looking-at bad-assness of Missy (played by born tough girl Eliza Dushku). Haley, our heroine in Stick It, is just sorta sullen. She was once a highly rated gymnast but left all of that in part, we intuit, because of her divorced bickering parents. Now, this troublemaker just likes to kick around with her two bike-rat friends Poot (John Patrick Amedori) and Ivan (Mio Dzakula). During one such session, Haley's mild trespassing infraction turns in to thousand- dollar vandalism when she breaks a big picture window on a house. She winds up in court where she gets a choice -- military school or gymnastics academy. She picks military school but is sent to gymnastics academy anyway. Her instructor Burt Vickerman (Jeff Daniels) is of the tough-love-but-decent-guy variety and, while many a young gymnast gives her the look of icy hate, gymnasts-in-training Wei Wei (Nikki SooHoo) and Mina (Maddy Curley) admire her take-no-poop attitude. Though she loves to bat the bitchiness back and forth with Haley, fellow classmate Joanne (Vanessa Lengies) secretly admires her too -- not just for her moxie but also for her male friends.

The girls wander through the usual teen-girl-movie maze (boys, parents, back-stabbing throwing them in the wrong direction) but the movie really starts to get interesting near the end when the gymnasts, sick of the antiquated scoring system and the innovation-crushing rules championed by the judges, decide to take matters into their own hands and pick their own winners. That part of the film recaptures some of the silly defiance that made Bring It On such a treat.

But 20 good minutes does not a cheesy treat make and Stick It is way too conventional in its storytelling. While Bring It On blew out its cliches -- slyly taking them to absurdist meta heights when it wasn't subverting them (cheerleaders are really butt-kicking athletes and they're smart) -- Stick It just keeps to them. Haley learns lessons, Joanne takes some time out of her career to be a teenager, pushy parents get what-for -- everything that happens does so at an easily predictable time with no spark of originality.

Stick It is not a bad movie and for its lipgloss-loving demographic it is at least as good as anything else they've been handed recently. It's just too bad that a film with such cheese-camp potential couldn't follow its own play hard, have fun mantra. C


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