In Bring It On, Kirsten Dunst stars as Torrance, who's about to be promoted to head cheerleader of the Toros cheerleading squad! It's the position she's always dreamed of! And now it's hers!
But being head cheerleader is not the sheer glamour position that most teen films and WB dramedies would have us believe. In fact, right after Torrance is elected head cheerleader (during the obligatory lingerie scene in the locker room) she faces her first fully-clothed crisis: One of her cheerleaders is injured, and a replacement must be found before the state cheerleading championships begin!
Courtney, an evil cheerleader on the Toros squad, wants her younger sister to be picked. And, of course, none of the stuck-up cheerleaders want Missy, the wild rebel girl who almost has a tattoo, to be on the squad. But Torrance announces that cheerleading is not run by democracy, it's run by cheerocracy, meaning the head cheerleader gets what she wants, and Missy, who's really a gymnast and is way too cool to be a cheerleader, is signed on over the objections of the heavily made-up Courtney and her catty confidante, Shelley.
This precipitates the next crisis: When Missy comes to the first practice, she realizes that the Toros' cheers are stolen! The previous head cheerleader, Big Red, who put the "itch" back in "bitch," had been biting the routines of the East Compton Clovers! Worse, the Toros are mostly white, and the Clovers mostly black, so it's, like, a race thing.
Torrance doesn't know what to do! Luckily, the extremely cool rebel girl Missy has, for no apparent reason, befriended the extremely perky Torrance, and tries to help her through the crisis. "It's only cheerleading!" she says, to which Torrance can only reply "But I'm only cheerleading!"
From there, race, class and fake enthusiasm meet in a tumultuous battle of good versus evil versus cute and fluffy. Who will win? Well, when the Clovers get into the national cheerleading championships opposite the Toros, the answer becomes pretty obvious, but hey, the important thing isn't winning, it's having a winning attitude!
Bring It On, while aimed squarely at teens, is witty enough to withstand adult viewing, and self-conscious enough to make fun of itself. Of course, it's not so witty and self-conscious as to alienate its core audience, so it never rises to the level of Jawbreaker or Election, high school comedies that lost some viewers due to their cynicism.
Still, Bring It On offers something that very few modern films have: large-scale dance numbers with visually stunning choreography that's reasonably well photographed. Big dance scenes are even harder to shoot well than big fight scenes, and they call for a cinematographer with the skills of an old-timer like Sol Polito (who shot 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933). Sol never missed a footstep or got in so close that he lost the sense of the figures (no doubt the fact that Busby Berkeley was directing him helped).
Shawn Maurer, who shot Bring It On, is not as precise as Sol Polito, but he is pretty good. The figures (i.e. the patters formed by the large groups of dancers) are clearly recognizable in most scenes, and while there are just a few too many close-ups (a no-no in scenes with 20 and more dancers) most of the choreography makes it through the cinematography process unscathed.
Where Bring It On suffers is in the use of stock characters. There's the rebel girl, the cute and endearing gay boy, the two stuck-up and catty cheerleaders, the perky lead girl, and the stupidly evil jocks. Hollywood seems to think that these kinds of stereotypes are necessary to a successful teen film formula, but the few films that venture outside these narrow confines are usually richer for it.
There are also some real limits to how hip a Hollywood teen film can be. When the cheerleader's choreographer tells them that "cheerleaders are dancers who've gone retarded," he mixes a nicely self-deprecating point with a pointlessly deprecating slur. Since that's become the catch phrase for Bring It On it's a good example of both the film's strengths and weaknesses. There are also the obligatory fart jokes, and one or two over-the-top teen sex jokes of the "smell my finger" sort.
Still, for a fan of the old dance movies of the '30s and '40s, Bring It On holds a lot of charm. Just think of it as Busby Berkeley for really, really, really horny teenagers.