Once in a while, the Caballero likes to put aside his high-brow indie dramas and foreign flicks and have a little mindless movie fun. When I was offered an advance copy of the latest direct-to-video Bring It On adventure, my guilty pleasure alarm went off and I leapt at the opportunity. Hey, I’m a red-blooded American Snob and I like watching cheerleaders, what can I say? The clinchers that added to the appeal were a co-starring role by Beyonce’s younger, less bootylicious sister Solange Knowles-Smith, and an appearance by pop tart sensation Rihanna.
For those of you keeping track, this is the third Bring It On movie. For those not keeping track, Bring It On was originally a theatrical release about rival cheerleading squads starring Kirsten Dunst. The basic premise of that first release is repeated here: rich, upper-class, mostly white, cheerleading squad faces off against poor, inner city squad for the championship. This time around, the big prize is a chance to back up Rihanna in a music video. This choice allows the filmmakers to incorporate more street dancing into the choreography mix since the final routines don’t have to adhere to the rules of whatever governing body oversees cheer competitions.
Hayden Panettiere leads the cast as the spunky head cheerleader at an exclusive coastal high school in Southern California. Although far from a household name, she has an extensive resume including a role in NBC’s upcoming fall series Heroes and an early appearance as Princess Dot’s voice in A Bug's Life. She’s very convincing in her role, and she adds great physicality to it with an arsenal of impressive dance moves. Sadly, Knowles-Smith isn’t quite as effective, seeming a bit wooden and not entirely convincing as the tough, angry foil. That's not entirely a knock on her, she just seems too nice to pull off the constant rage required of her role.
The movie gets off to a rocky start with an extended dream sequence that causes more confusion than interest. Eventually, the real story kicks into gear and shows Panettiere’s character being forced to leave her cheerleading squad and high school behind when her dad loses his job and has to move the family to the lower rent district in the ‘hood. This sets up a fish-out-of-water story for Panetierre as she’s forced to adapt to the inner city life. Unfortunately, this also sets up some truly groan-inducing moments such as her first arrival in her new school’s parking lot (in convertible VW, natch) where she immediately encounters a rainbow coalition of stereotypical students break dancing and hitting switches in their lowriders.
Luckily, the film manages to rise above its occasional racial insensitivity with a warm-hearted tale of finding common ground and binding together to reach a shared goal. The script packs some snappy dialogue good for a few laughs, and the cast does double duty as actors and cheerleaders, showing off some impressive moves and routines between reciting their lines. Yes, those energetic routines alone are worth the price of…um, rental or purchase.
The DVD packs a few extras including the requisite bloopers reel, behind-the-scenes production footage, and a unique segment that lets viewers learn step-by-step a full dance routine with one of the primary choreographers and a handful of the cast members. Expect to see that routine in cheer routines at homecoming games everywhere this fall.
While the direct-to-DVD market is usually suspect in quality, the latest Bring It On entry proves that the format can work when placed in the right hands. It’s far from essential viewing, but it's a pleasant diversion that delivers exactly what it advertises, which is more than most theatrical releases can muster.
Written by Caballero Oscuro