[box cover]

Stick It

Here's a nice surprise: A writer-director tackles that most clichéd of genres: the sports movie. And while she doesn't reject the clichés outright, she plays with them — writing, editing and directing every scene as hard as she can until her movie is funnier and better-acted and better-looking and overall just less insulting than even the advertising might suggest. That, in a nutshell, is the joy of Stick It (2006). Taken alone, the premise is fine, if you're 14 and prone to doodling Nadia Comaneci on your PeeChee. A disgraced gymnastics prodigy named Haley (Missy Peregrym) is arrested after doing window-shattering BMX stunts at a construction site. (She's "extreme," you see.) As punishment, she's sentenced to train at the Vickerman Gymnastics Academy, run by a grouchy old coach (Jeff Bridges) who's a little disgraced himself. Does Haley rebel against her training? Does she apply her "extreme" mentality to gymnastics, throwing mad tricks on the mat, beam, vault and bars? Does she feud with her uptight teammates? Do we learn the dark secret that led her to walk out of Worlds a while back, leaving her fellow wannabe Olympians in the lurch? Are there evil mothers? Comic-relief guy-friends? Montages? The answer to all these questions is: "Duh." But writer/director Jessica Bendinger — who penned the thinking-man's cheerleader saga Bring It On — makes a solid directorial debut by simply attacking these clichés in the most entertaining ways possible, then slathering it all with a thick patina of comedy. Even the script's puns are well-delivered. If there's a competition or training montage, Bendinger finds a snappy way to film it, or sets it against a Haley voice-over that moves the story forward. (There's a great bit where the director zips through an entire day of competition by showing every gymnast's routine simultaneously, in a kaleidoscopic composite shot.) And best of all, Bendinger employs a secret weapon named Missy Peregrym, who does a star turn as Haley. She's playful, snotty, smart, great at physical comedy, looks like Hilary Swank with the sharp edges belt-sanded off, really wears those Ramones and Black Flag t-shirts, and is just totally unafraid to twist her face into shapes as she spars with Bridges, who's his usual lumpen, wry self. The movie's only real misstep comes toward the end, as Bendinger moves the story off Haley and has the girls abandon years of hard-wired competitive bloodlust to team up against biased judges. But other than flubbing the dismount, Stick It is smarter and funnier than it has any right to be. Buena Vista's DVD release offers a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include two commentary tracks — one with writer-director Jessica Bendinger and stars Missy Peregrym and Vanessa Lengies, the second with Bendinger, cinematographer Daryn Okada, and editor Try Takaki — the featurette "Hard Corps: The Real Gymnasts of Stick It" (4 min.), eight deleted scenes (with two sets of optional commentaries and a "play all" option), "The Elites" with six full routines by pro gymnasts (with commentary and "play all"), "Judges Table" with three slow-motion routines, an outtakes reel (3 min.), and two music videos. Keep-case.
Mike Russell

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