Spirit Schtick 

Kirsten Dunst shows some soul, and a little flesh, in the summer’s most tolerable teen film, Bring It On.

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Bring It On, Peyton Reed’s tongue-in-cheek comedy about high school cheerleading, is one of the funnier teen movies to emerge from the summer sludge. From the opening parody of a half-time cheer (“I’m sexy, I’m hot … you’re not,” and “I swear I’m not a whore …”), Reed sets the tone of this often clever comedy. Starring Kirsten Dunst, it’s similar in tone to last year’s hilarious sleeper about beauty pageants, Drop Dead Gorgeous—also starring Dunst.

In Bring It On, Dunst plays head cheerleader Torrance, who takes her leadership role very seriously. She excels in the role of fresh-faced ingenue full of pep, spirit and the will to win fair and square. Winning the National High School Cheerleading Championship for the sixth year is the dream of Torrance and her San Diego Toros cheer squad champions. To them, football and basketball games are only practice for the cheerleading competition.

The main rivals for these spirit-mongers are the equally peppy Clovers, an inner-city Los Angeles hip-hop squad. Like Torrance, the captain of the Clovers (Gabrielle Union) is also determined for her squad to be the best.

Imagine Torrance’s devastation when she discovers that the hot routine her predecessor taught the squad was actually stolen from the Clovers—as were most of the Toros’ routines, it turns out. “My entire cheerleading career has been a lie,” Torrance laments. With only weeks until the competition, the Toros desperately need a new routine and a heavy infusion of the old fighting spirit.

Their solution is an acid-tongued L.A. choreographer named Sparky, who makes his grand entrance in some wicked leather boots and pants. The guy has major attitude, and steals the scene as he delivers some piercing lines bringing the girls down to size: “Your ass gets any bigger and it’ll need its own website,” he tells one. “Cheerleaders,” he announces, “are dancers who have gone retarded.”

Despite the protests of thinner girls, Sparky puts them all on diets because, “in cheerleading, we throw people in the air and fat people don’t go as high.” The outrageous routine he concocts only leads them to more unexpected cheering woes, until they have to figure out for themselves what winning is really about.

A love affair between Torrance and another cheerleader’s good-looking brother gets thrown into the mix for good measure, leading to a wittily played tooth-brushing scene that’s one of the best courtship sequences of the summer.

For big laughs that will remind you of Tim Farrell’s Saturday Night Live cheerleading sketch, Reed adds some hilarious cheerleading tryouts. Sitting judgement, Torrance and her squad see everything from ballet pirouettes to Broadway show tunes to energy-impaired contenders and girls who dissolve into tears—even one cheerleading hopeful who would have been better suited auditioning for a spot as a lap dancer.

Reed’s comedy has enough voyeuristic shots of nubile young women in underwear and short little skirts to keep male audiences in high spirits if that’s all they’re after. Some scenes are purely gratuitous. Still, this amusing film does a great job of satirizing cheerleading culture, while simultaneously making its players (at least most of them) sympathetic characters. You can’t help but like the good-intentioned Torrance, who is just trying to take charge and do the right thing.

Reed also bases his comedy on old-fashioned values of good sportsmanship and fair play without becoming heavy-handed or obviously self-righteous. In an age of winning at any cost, doing whatever it takes and grabbing glory for glory’s sake, Reed uses comedy and a consistently light tone to deliver the age-old adage, “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.” And in a day when incivility prevails in all arenas, it’s a message that can’t be relayed often enough.

Bring It On (PG-13) HHH Directed by Peyton Reed. Starring Kirsten Dunst and Gabrielle Union.

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