- The Washington Times - Friday, August 25, 2000

Cheerleading has emerged suddenly as a serendipitous enhancement to movie comedy as the summer draws to a close.

The dirty-dancing cheerleaders recruited for the pro football franchise in "The Replacements" proved an enjoyable slapstick brainstorm.

Now an entire picture, the high school romantic-sporting-inspirational farce aggressively titled "Bring It On," flourishes on the notion of a rivalry between Southern California cheerleading squads destined to compete in the finals of a national tournament in Daytona, Fla.

If memory serves, there never has been a better movie comedy predicated on the esoteric subject of cheerleading. "Bring It On" exploits even its unsavory, ridiculous or transitory characters in a fondly effective way, making it easy for cast members to create distinctive and diverting impressions.

The director, Peyton Reed, and screenwriter, Jessica Bendinger, have contrived the wittiest high school romantic comedy since "Clueless."

They're also responsible for the happiest surprise of this particular movie year. I would be shocked and discouraged if "Bring It On" failed to become a major hit.

Certain aspects of its loaded comic arsenal also may be destined for Hall of Fame esteem, notably Ian Roberts' sensational cameo as an unscrupulous, tyrannical choreographer named Sparky Polastri. His trademark gesture, "spirit fingers," could become a back-to-school craze.

The movie begins as its protagonist, high school senior Torrance Shipman (Kirsten Dunst) of San Diego's exceptionally affluent Rancho Carne High, wakes up screaming.

On the day she is destined to be named captain of the cheerleading squad of the Toros, Torrance suffers a mocking nightmare, derived a little nostalgically from the front and back covers of the National Lampoon's High School Yearbook parody.

A waking nightmare soon challenges Torrance's fundamental sense of pride and fairness, along with her leadership potential. She discovers that her celebrated squad, five-time champion at the cheerleading tournament, has been relying on routines lifted from undeservedly obscure peers, a crackerjack inner-city team in Los Angeles, the East Compton High Clovers.

Her eyes are opened by an explosive, wised-up new team member, Eliza Dushku of the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" series as Missy Pantone, a transfer and virtuoso gymnast who condescends to try out because Rancho Carne lacks gymnastic teams.

Placed on the spot with regionals just around the corner, Torrance takes some booby-trapped advice and hires the mercenary Sparky, reputed to be a tower of originality.

A hilariously domineering and insulting presence as embodied by Mr. Roberts, he browbeats the desperate and naive Toros into submission.

Several ingredients turn out to be smartly and zestfully blended in "Bring It On": romantic and domestic comedy, athletic endeavor, interracial misunderstanding, a distinctive teen-age idiom, throwaway slapstick, production numbers and girls in cute outfits.

One can't be certain if all the playful bits that work so well reflect a writer's contribution: the cheerleading auditions (much better here than in "The Replacements"); a tooth-brushing courtship interlude between Miss Dunst and Jesse Bradford as Missy's droll and amusing brother Cliff; video horseplay during a fund-raising car wash; and the truly excellent idea of having the Toros' football team be chronic losers, always less of an attraction than the cheerleading squad.

"Bring It On " comes on like gangbusters and seems to enjoy a charmed comic life while it fills the screen.

Three and 1/2 out of four stars

TITLE: "Bring It On"

RATING: PG-13 (Occasional comic vulgarity and sexual candor; fleeting nudity and graphic violence, within a farcical context)

CREDITS: Directed by Peyton Reed

RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes

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