[box cover]

Bring It On: Collector's Edition

Universal Home Video

Starring Kirsten Dunst, Eliza Dushku, Jesse Bradford,
and Gabrielle Union

Written by Jessica Bendinger
Directed by Peyton Reed

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Review by Betsy Bozdech                    

For some people, there's probably no such thing as a bad cheerleader movie. Those people are more than likely men. When it comes to the average heterosexual male, there's just something about the sight of a lithe teenage girl in a short skirt and tiny top cavorting and doing more flips than a Cirque du Soleil acrobat. It brings back the days of high school, when the head cheerleader was an untouchable fantasy — sensual yet pure, innocent yet trampy.

Gentlemen, meet Torrance Shipman. The beautiful blond heroine of Peyton Reed's Bring It On is cheerleading incarnate. As played by schoolgirl vixen du jour Kirsten Dunst, the newly appointed captain of San Diego's fictional Rancho Carne High Toros pep squad is perky, earnest, and hard-working — and her abs are as tight as a drum. Watching Torrance and her fellow Toros high-kick and handspring their way through the fun, fluffy Bring It On, the gangly freshman you thought you'd banished forever is going to work his way to the surface, ogling all the way.

Okay, now that that's over with, we can move on to the real news: Bring It On is actually a decent movie. Just as Amy Heckerling's classic-in-the-making Clueless simultaneously skewered and celebrated bubbleheaded L.A. teens, so does Bring It On both poke fun at and wave pom-poms in the air for the sport (yes, sport) of high school cheerleading. And while Bring It isn't quite as clever or of-the-moment as Clueless, it's definitely worth watching. From the movie's opening scene — a Busby Berkeley-esque dream sequence in which the Toros introduce themselves by shouting out a snarky cheer that features lines like "I'm sexy, I'm cute, I'm popular to boot!" — you know that Bring It On isn't going to be an underdogs-triumph-against-all-odds sports movie in the tradition of The Bad News Bears and The Mighty Ducks. But as soon as the plot really kicks in — much to Torrance's dismay, it turns out that all the Toros' routines were cribbed from L.A.'s inner city East Compton Clovers, and now the two teams are going to face off against each other in the national competition — you realize that, yes, the stars, screenwriter, and director are taking competitive cheerleading seriously.

Of course, after watching these girls (and guys) flip and twirl their way through a series of very athletic routines, one is compelled to agree with them — at the level it's portrayed in this film, cheerleading is a sport. And the RCH Toros are five-time national champions, so it's no wonder that, for them, it's all that matters. The twist is that at least some of them recognize that: "I am only cheerleading," Torrance tells new recruit Missy (Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Eliza Dushku), a cynical gymnast who turns to cheerleading as a last resort after she transfers to RCH from L.A. But if you think Bring It On is starting to sound a little too sappy, fear not — with biting lines like "This is not a democracy, it's a cheerocracy," "Carver will strictly be cheering in the Special Olympics until March," and "Cheerleaders are dancers who have gone retarded," this is one cheerleading movie that isn't afraid to bare its fangs (as opposed to baring flesh, like the cheerleader exploitation films of the '70s and '80s, although there's a bit of that, too, especially in the car wash and locker room scenes...).

Bring It On's casting is just as smart as its script. In addition to Dunst, who couldn't find a role more ideally suited to her All-American nymphet image if she tried, Dushku is great as the skeptical Missy — she provides a convenient entry point for viewers who tend to look at cheerleading with one eyebrow permanently raised. As Missy's brother Cliff, a sweetly punkish alternahero in the tradition of Paul Rudd's Josh in Clueless (and John Cusack in just about everything he's ever been in), Jesse Bradford is a good love interest for Torrance, who needs to learn that the whole world doesn't revolve around being able to form the perfect pyramid. Finally, both Gabrielle Union, as Clovers captain Isis, and Ian Roberts, as frustrated choreographer Sparky Polastin, offer impressive supporting turns.

Bring It On is not without flaws. Much of the plot is fairly predictable, and some scenes meant to be funny — like the squad audition sequence — fall a little flat. But overall, as teen movies about cheerleading go, it's a solid flick. Universal does it proud with their DVD Collector's Edition, offering almost as many extras as there are members on the Toros' squad. First is a by-the-book 14-minute featurette called "Spotlight on Location: The Making of Bring It On," which offers the standard interview clips with the stars, screenwriter Jessica Bendinger, director Reed, and so on. Reed also has a feature-length commentary, which is chatty, interesting, and filled with facts and anecdotes (for example, Dushku came to work quite hungover the day they shot the car wash scene). A set of ten deleted scenes, with interstitial comments by Reed, offers an axed subplot about Torrance applying to college, as well as a too-cute alternative ending. Three extended scenes offer a longer glimpse of the stripper/cheerleader wannabe from the auditions sequence and a continuous take of the locker room scene. Unfortunately, neither set of scenes offers a submenu to allow the viewer to access each one individually; you'll have to fast forward through Reed's introductions to get to those you want to see.

But wait, there's more! One of the more entertaining extras on the disc is the Pop Up Video-esque "Did You Know That?" feature, which offers up little trivia tidbits throughout the film (for example, "Women first became active cheerleaders in Minnesota in the 1920s). Plus, take a gander at a 40-second montage of Dunst and Dushku prancing for the camera in clips from their wardrobe and make-up tests, or drool at roughly three minutes of never-before-seen home movie footage from the car wash; accompanied by Rufus King, it plays like an outtake from one of MTV's Spring Break specials. The list of extras is rounded out with a music video of Blaque's "As If," the theatrical trailer, text production notes, bios for the cast and filmmakers, recommendations for other Universal movies on DVD, scene selection, and DVD-ROM features that include a screensaver and a cheerleading quiz.

Bring It On looks great on DVD; every cheer is crystal clear thanks to the crisp 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. The English Dolby Digital and DTS audio options are both excellent; other language options include a French track and English subtitles.

A final note: Be sure to watch all the way through to the credits on this one — the outtakes, and the footage of the cast lip-synching "Mickey" (a la Toni Basil's classic '80s video) are two of the best things on the disc.

— Betsy Bozdech

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