Clichés work. Granted, they are stock, trite, and cheap, but if they didn’t provide the kind of guaranteed instantaneous success a writer or filmmaker is looking for, they wouldn’t be considered a narrative chestnut, now would they? These stereotypes often contain a nugget of truth but approach such revelations in the most shorthanded, shortsighted way possible. Using them can be lazy or legitimate, depending on the outcome. All of which highlights the pros - and obvious cons - of Bring It On: Fight to the Finish. Representing the fifth (that’s right FIFTH) effort in this loosely linked franchise, there’s nothing but formula and forced archetypes here. Along with what seems like a never-ending supply of ‘dope’ dance sequences, what we wind up with is something pat and predictable, but fairly fun anyway.
Her royal chica-ness, Lina Cruz, is all discombobulated. Her waitress mom has just remarried, landing a very rich Malibu hubby, and she’s about to leave her East LA hood. Naturally, the mama-sitas that make up her main cheer crew - Gloria and Treyvonetta - are muy p.o.‘ed. Before she knows it, she’s a snarky self-important fish in a pond filled with arrogant Caucasian witches. While stepsister Skyler tries to teach her the ropes of her new exclusive high school, Lina just wants to pout and hook back up with her homies. Not even the interested eye of basketball jock Evan can turn her haughty head. Under duress, she agrees to join the sorry school cheerleading squad, where she remains mostly unmotivated until she runs into Avery - reigning queen bee and Spirit Competition champion. Desperate to beat the biz-nitch, she calls on her old friends to bring her new team to life, with the hope of being good enough to enter the upcoming cheerleading contest.
Funny, fresh, and incredibly forced, Bring It On: Fight to the Finish should make many a daydreaming tween/teen happy. While parents will be perturbed by the suggestion that school is merely a conduit for excessive amounts of rump shaking, adolescents will probably adore this contrived combination of wish fulfillment, upward mobility, and pure punk’d retribution. Yes, everything builds to a final dance off with the good guys giving the over the top baddies a run for their routines. Yes, the whole “suddenly rich” angle reeks of dishonesty and race-based class struggling. Certainly actress Christina Milan was hired because she’s got snake-like hips and a likeable street cred cuteness. But none of this makes the movie inventive or exciting. You simply have to go with its mechanical flow and hope that the makers don’t muck things up.
Luckily, director Bille Woodruff puts his music video training to good use as he swings the camera around the otherwise uninspired choreography. Unlike the real cheerleading squads who offer nothing but precision, presence, and perfect synchronization, the cast here can’t quite “bring it” all together. If you look closely in the crowd, you’ll see dance literate extras who clearly graduated sometime in the Clinton Administration. They help the leads look good, if not completely competent. Equally decent is the script from Elana Song (Bring It On: In It to Win It) and Alyson Fouse (both In It to Win It and Bring It On: All or Nothing). They understand this material and pepper the dialogue with lots of clever cut downs. There is a tad too much ham-fisted hookiness, and the cheesy “cheer” lingo gets old quickly, but at least they keep things moving.
Of course, Bring It On: Fight to the Finish is not the kind of movie you come looking to for logic. After all, Lina gets her across the tracks pals into the Malibu school so easily that you’re certain it will come back to bite the babe (it does). Similarly, the last act “revelation” that anybody can be a member of an All Star team makes the middle section histrionics all the more pointless. Perhaps the biggest flaw in the film is wicked washout Avery. She is the very definition of one dimensional, never given more to her mean girl personality than a squint and a finger snap. Actress Rachele Brooke Smith tries to bring something deeper to the role, but it never arrives. At least she could relish being odious. Instead, you imagine a single well placed criticism would have her caving like a member of the chess club.
Still, you have to appreciate the attempted energy. For a film that runs a whopping 103 minutes (did we really need the street party, the Rodeo Drive dance, AND the Boys/Girls Club music montage???) there is never a truly dull moment. Granted, we never buy the Lina-Evan hook-up, especially since Cody Longo has little chemistry with Ms. Milian and that makes their snuggle scenes a tad tiring and the wannabe “wigger” jokes are offensive. As long as Woodruff works his magic and keeps the music slammin’, something about this otherwise routine film finds a way to work (the DVD dishes some backstage dirt and a few deleted scenes, but nothing mandatory).
Since there is no need to connect each sequel to each other, or to the original film from nine years ago, the Bring It On series can continue on ad infinitum. Hollywood is always churning out the attempted teen idol type, doe-eyed talent failing to realize their revolving door flash in the pan status. As long as said machine keeps cranking out the film fodder, agreeable attempts like Bring It On: Fight to the Finish will discover a direct to DVD lifeline. And while it may seem like they’ve uncovered every last one of those hoary old tried and true axioms Bring It On needn’t worry. There are certainly hundreds of clichés and racial/social stereotypes left to explore - and here’s guessing they’ll try to tap into each and every one of them.