High score for 'Stick It'

JIM SLOTEK - Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 1:10 AM ET

PLOT: A bad-girl teen ex-gymnast gets hurled back into the sport by court order after committing vandalism. There, with the help of an understanding coach, she comes to terms with her demons and "mean girl" fellow gymnasts.

A sports film for the Bratz generation, the gymnastics teenflick Stick It offers up bits of Mean Girls and Bring It On -- and a different take on winning that gives the movie's title its double entendre.

In gymnastics, to "stick it" is to land cleanly. The other meaning you might already know.

And sticking it is what girls are encouraged to do to "the enemy," which in this case is not an overbearing opponent as in the typical coach-inspires-underdog-to-crush-his-arrogant-tormentor sportsflick. It's the system, in a sport of capricious judges and unfair standards for young women.

You wouldn't know from the trailers that Stick It is a "fight the power" movie for tweens, though, because it does seem too perky and shiny for that. In her directing debut, Bring It On writer Jessica Bendinger brings on the comedy and has fun with gymnastics' kineticism and fine-tuned teen bodies (check out the over-the-top kaleidoscopic camerawork and overhead choreography a la Busby Berekley musicals.)

But amid all the teengirl wrapping of boys, clothes, frenemies in Stick It, the big idea is that everybody -- mean girls and victims alike -- can conspire to change the game. I don't think we're in the University of Kansas Varsity anymore, Toto.

Two Canadian girls make the movie go. Hilary Duff lookalike Missy Peregrym is Haley, the "bad girl" with natural gifts who gave it all up and cost Team USA the gold, and who became a BMX bum with her slacker boy friends. One "XTreme" stunt through a plate glass window finds her with a court order to either return to gymnastics to straighten out or be sentenced to "juvie."

The other Canuck is Vanessa Lengies as Joanne, who plays both mean-girl and "dumb-blonde" to a Chrissy from Three's Company degree, but whose enmity with Haley is based on the fact that her middling abilities don't afford her Haley's luxury of not being completely committed.

And then there's Jeff Bridges as laid back ex-gymnast Burt Vickerman, who's kind of what The Big Lebowski's "Dude" would have been if he'd discovered the trampoline. With a coaching vibe consisting mainly of bemused sarcasm, he cajoles Haley and calls her bluffs, until we discover the Electra Complex at the root of her big, earlier flameout.

It doesn't take long, once the frenemies become more friends than enemies, before they all start "fighting the real enemy" (to quote Sinead O'Connor), and an improbable revolt against the very sport of gymnastics follows.

For what it is, this is a cut above the tween film genre.

BOTTOM LINE: A sports film for the Bratz generation. In her directing debut, Bring It On writer Jessica Bendinger has a lot of fun with flights of kaleidoscopic camerawork and overhead choreography a la old Busby Berkeley musicals. But the endgame in this sports-film-for-girls is all about empowerment, not plain old opponent-crushing.

(This film is rated PG)


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