“Stick It” is a retread of “Bring It On,” from the writer of that 2000 Kirsten Dunst comedy, only with gymnastics in place of cheerleading.
It trots out a cornucopia of sports-movie cliches: the tough-love coach, the training montage, the stubborn athlete in need of a life-affirming realization which will (of course) take place during the big championship competition.
It panders shamelessly to its attention span-deprived target audience with quick edits and jump cuts, sequences that have been sped up and slowed down and tricky extreme sports maneuvers, all to the tune of catchy, blaring guitar riffs. (Though the choice of “Renegade” by Styx, while an amusing blast from the past, came out way before anyone in the theater was born and as such is, like, lame.)
And yet, “Stick It” is way more watchable than all that would suggest, thanks to the presence of Missy Peregrym.
The Canadian actress, who could be Hilary Swank’s twin, is a perfect mix of beauty and tomboyish strength. She’s quick, she’s natural, she has a radiant smile that makes her utterly engaging; she even makes the potentially cloying moments tolerable. Until now, Peregrym has done some bit parts on TV, so you’ve probably never heard of her, but that should change after “Stick It,” and that’s probably the film’s only redeeming quality.
(The similarity to Swank is especially noticeable as Peregrym’s Haley Graham trains for the big gymnastics meet with veteran Texas coach Burt Vickerman, played by Jeff Bridges with more intelligence and nuance than you’d expect from a movie like this. With her brunette ponytail and her muscular back and shoulders rippling from her jog bra, she brings back vivid memories of “Million Dollar Baby.”)
The film from Jessica Bendinger, who wrote the script and directs for the first time, does have its share of clever lines. As in “Bring It On,” “Stick It” feels contemporary but very much has its own language, which the attitudinal girls use to call each other out and bring each other down. At times the writing is snappy to the point of being sitcommy, though, as in bad-girl Haley’s reaction to the disciplined disciples at Burt’s academy: “Is he keeping your brains in jars? Or should I be concerned about the water?”
The profuse use of voiceover also gets a little overbearing and obvious. As if we couldn’t figure out for ourselves that Haley was a rebel, from her elaborate mountain-bike stunts to her K-Feddish wardrobe of trucker hats, punk band T-shirts and cut-off camouflage pants, she informs us: “In the world of gymnastics, hating me was a sport, in and of itself.”
And as if Haley’s backstory weren’t contrived enough — she was a stud gymnast who choked at the world championships, and has been a pariah and a recluse ever since — her reason for showing up reluctantly at Burt’s training center is even worse. She gets into trouble for trespassing with her Bill-and-Ted type goofball pals at a construction site, and this is her punishment.
She and all her pixieish, stage-mothered teammates (including Vanessa Lengies, who gets some laughs as the diva who’s prone to malapropisms) will learn lessons about sticking up for themselves and sticking together, whether or not they stick their landings, hence the title.
But the twist that prompts these realizations is laughably implausible. We won’t give it away — we’ll just say that any aspiring Olympian who has devoted her entire life to training from the moment she could walk wouldn’t do it.
Tween and teen girls will love it, though. And regardless of age (or gender), it does make you want to put down the Junior Mints and head to the gym.