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Stick It

Director: Jessica Bendinger
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Missy Peregrym, Vanessa Lengies, Tarah Paige, John Patrick Amedori

(Buena Vista; US theatrical: 28 Apr 2006; 2006)

In Juvie

There are a lot of people who had jerks for parents. We gotta stick together.
—Judge Westreich (Polly Holliday)


Stick It wants to be another movie. Specifically, it wants to be the second coming of Bring It On, 2000’s bracing cheerocracy adventure. But as the new movie revisits old territory (nominally changing the sport/culture under scrutiny from competitive cheerleading to elite gymnastics), it forgets those precious elements that made the first film so, well, precious. Namely, Kirsten Dunst, Gabrielle Union, Faith, and surprise. And oh yes, the refreshing absence of adults.


Here Dunst’s super girl and Eliza Dushku’s rebel girl are combined in one character, sort of, named Haley (Missy Peregrym). She’s introduced incognito, crashing her bicycle through a new-house window (slo-mo, yes) while wearing a face-hiding hoodie. If you haven’t noticed the credits or seen Bring It On, you might imagine for a moment that Haley’s a boy (“Dude!”), but then she does the pull off the hoodie movie, swings her long hair and initiates her voiceover, having to do with teen angst, alienation, and authority issues. She’s been flirting with the cops for a long time she tells you, and then, as Panjabi MC’s “Mundian to Bach Ke” kicks in loud enough to blend with the sirens coming up behind her, she realizes that it’s time to start a “serious” relationship. That is, she’s printed and mug-shotted.


And then, pooft!, Haley stands before a judge (Polly Holliday), who inexplicably sentences her to a gymnastics training facility, because neither of her angrily divorced parents can or wants to cope with her. And so she’s dumped into the lap of the film’s primary adult, disgraced coach Burt Vickerman (Jeff Bridges, only occasionally recalling the Dude, but without the beard). He knows her greatness and her sketchy past, soon, so do you. Two years ago the brilliantly talented Haley walked out on “the Worlds” without saying why, and her teammates and the rest of the ultra-closed universe of gymnastics have hated her ever since. Especially the harsh-bunned diva Tricia (Tarah Paige), who apparently lost her chance for a medal because of Haley’s decision and has never forgiven her erstwhile best friend.


The deal is that Burt means to coach Haley back into competition, and Haley doesn’t want to give herself over again to the grueling routine that is elite gymnastics (“I burned all my leotards last year,” she announces). She has no problem with the tricks—in fact, she has found other ways to take physical risks and be athletic on her bike and with her skater buds, Poot (John Patrick Amedori) and Frank (Kellan Lutz, whose primary function appears to be fart-joking). She resents the rules though, and gymnastics, as anyone who’s ever seen a Summer Olympics weekend on tv, is full of them, petty, unreasonable, and restrictive. As Haley points out more than once, the regulations inhibit creativity and flair. Not to mention, as she does, the judging, notoriously subjective and opaque. When Burt suggests she “come back” long enough to win her “restitution money” (some $14,000 in property damage), Haley refuses… until she realizes, pace Richard Gere, “I’ve got nowhere else to go.”


The arrangement with Burt means she has to train with the leotarded girlies he’s paid to train, a set of pert little bodies who either admire Haley or begrudge her, both based on that dark history you already know all about. She does, inevitably, win over these eager-neurotic, easily typed teammates, who include snooty-girl Joanne (Vanessa Lengies), perky-girl Wei Wei (Nikki SooHoo), and clueless-girl Mena (Maddy Curley). The girls neatly embody the movie’s central tensions, mostly having to do with rebellion and conformity. Haley wears t-shirts proclaiming her sense of self (Ramones, Bad Brains, Motorhead), while the film includes background tracks by Green Day and Blink (with opening credits written in taggers’-script), all of which suggests a mushy mingling of pop and rock and punk and hip-hop, designed to sell a soundtrack cd if nothing else.


On the conformists’ side sit the teammates who want to be good girls and the creaky gymnastics establishment, notoriously old-school and even dangerous, with its predilection for taut-teeny bodies and hyerpextensions and training schedules that begin when kids are five and six. Haley’s complaints are all sensible, and the movie gives her easy targets to boot: a coach who sleeps with his trainees’ mothers, uptight judges (whom she fantasizes really want to be able to do the spectacular gymnasts’ moves, a desire the film illustrates comically), and tediously ambitious moms who wear shirts that show cleavage.


At the same time, Haley is surrounded by and appreciates her fellow hardworking gymnasts. The film appreciates the gymnasts as well, showcasing the flips and vaults that are, at times, audacious and dazzling, as are the film’s superbright look and a couple of overlap-editing sequences, showing the routine of training as well as the exertion involved. As Haley puts it, “Elite gymnastics is like the Navy SEALS, only way harder.”


Though her efforts to “throw her best tricks as hard as she can” are engaging, the movie places all kinds of obstacles in Haley’s way, not least being awkward plotting and some unfathomable editing. The movie takes too long to get to the showdown/point, which is then over-explained by the tv announcers (including Bart Conner and Elfi Schlegel “as themselves,” plainly harboring some ongoing frustrations with the system). And it never does figure out how to make use of the ever-cool Bridges. By the time he turns all squishy and tells Haley just what she wants to hear when she needs it, the movie has lost even its little bit of snarky-cred and plummeted straight into prosaic coming-of-ageiness. Just the sort of insipid conformity that Haley wanted so badly to avoid.

Rating:

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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