Jessica Bendiger, who wrote the smarter-than-it-should-have-been script for Peyton Reed's cheerleader comedy Bring It On, attempts a two-fer with her directorial effort and, well, she gets points for difficulty but chokes on the dismount.
This time, it's all about gymnastics. The girl-centric, Karate Kid-wannabe plot just begs the question, hasn't there already been a girl Karate Kid movie? Didn't it star Hilary Swank and, you know, suck? The answer is yes, yes and yes, but apparently someone at Buena Vista forgot and made another one.
Missy Peregrym, a graduate of the same genetic research lab that spat out Piper Perabo and Amanda Peet, stars as Haley Graham, a rebellious teen facing time in either a juvenile facility or military school unless she ... trains in gymnastics. Huh? Is this common in the juvenile courts? Are ne'er-so-well youths being sent to cooking school and band camp instead of juvie these days? And, if so, why hasn't Stone Phillips done a searing expose on the subject?
Ah, but Haley was once a world-class gymnast who, of course, walked out of the Nationals two years earlier, leaving her team in the lurch and gaining a reputation as a, um, walker-outter. So her parents and the tough-but-fair juvenile court judge (Polly Holliday -- Flo from TV's "Alice!") make her go back and face her past. Apparently, walking out is as bad as it gets in Gymnasticland, because her bad-girl rep precedes her, and some of the other girls are (gasp!) rude to her. Her new coach also has a rep -- the girls who train at Burt Vickerman's school are known to sustain a lot of injuries (although we never see this problem) and he's known more as moneymaker than a motivator. So when he and Haley butt heads (of course), each learns a valuable lesson about integrity. Or something.
But here's the thing -- Vickerman's played by Jeff Bridges. And it's always delightful watching Bridges work, even when he's obviously slumming. He brings a charming, irascible, well-worn quality to the aging coach, and even when the movie sort of sucks (which is often) the quirky little flavors he brings to the character are never less than brilliant.
Stick It takes a really nice turn in its last act, veering in a very different direction than other flicks of its kind, but it's an uneven sort of development. Bendiger's script and direction belie a desire to make something fresh and new while still sticking to the old template of bad girl learns a lesson/snotty girl becomes her friend/dress-up musical montage in the mall/potential failure then triumph at the competition. And you really can't have it both ways. The gymnastics are cool, Peregrym is almost believable as an athlete (even though she's too tall and her breasts are a tad too big to compete successfully at that level) and, as mentioned, Jeff Bridges is his usual awesome self. Stick It doesn't entirely suck – but it's far from successful, making it a pale imitation of Bring It On that's only good entertainment for less-discerning 'tween gymnastics enthusiasts.
If you're a fan of the film, the DVD is a must-buy -- there are loads of genuinely entertaining extras, so if you or your 13-year-old daughter are nuts for Stick It, you may as well just buy the damn thing now so you can watch it over and over and over.
It's an absolutely gorgeous transfer, but that should be expected from brand-spanking-new movies at this point -- a clean, crisp anamorphic 1.85:1 picture with excellent color saturation and no noticeable edge enhancement. Really sharp, in every way.
The sound is equally good, in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround (English, Spanish or French, with optional subtitles in each language). This isn't an effects-heavy film, but the hip-hop music track is a big part of its appeal, and the sound mix balances big, bold bass lines and dialogue nicely.
First up, there are two audio commentaries, one with writer/director Bendinger and actresses Missy Peregrym and Vanessa Lengies, and another with Bendiger, cinematographer Daryn Okada and editor Troy Takaki. They're pretty standard commentaries, focusing on specifics of the scenes, and how much fun it was to work with everyone, etc. Naturally, the second track is more tech-heavy, which is great if you like that sort of thing.
"Buttaharas," the inevitable blooper reel of gymnasts falling, actors blowing lines and Peregrym making a seemingly endless series of "funny" faces. (3 min.)
"Skinny Fat," offering deleted scenes with optional filmmaker commentary. Most aren't worth the trouble, but one sequence featuring Bridges and the girls making a run to a drugstore is absolutely hilarious. (13 min.)
Music videos for Missy Elliott's "We Run This (Stick It Edit)" and "Crowded" by Jeannie Ortega. Elliott's is cool and cutting edge with terrific dancing, while Ortega's is standard-issue movie clips intercut with her Aguilera-like singing.
"Hard Corps: The Real Gymnasts of Stick It" is just what it says it is, a delightful little snippet introducing the real stunt-double gymnasts. (4 min.)
"The Elites" offers full gymnastics routines -- floor, beam and uneven bars -- by some of the film's stand-in gymnasts. (9 min.)
"The Judges Table" shows the very impressive individual uneven bar routines, in slow-motion, that were used as part of the film's visual effects.(9 min.)
The bottom line:
If you're a grown-up who's hoping this film will be the equal of Bendiger's Bring It On, you'll be disappointed -- as an example of how a good director can make a script sing, you can't do much better than comparing Peyton Reed's direction on that far superior film with Bendiger's here. On the other hand, if you're a girl between the ages of 12 and 15, you'll probably love Stick It, and if that's the case, this DVD release offers a lot of bonus features that you'll adore.