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Stick It

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 09/18/06 20:39:48

"More whine than a California vineyard!"
1 stars (Sucks)

Thank goodness for Jeff Bridges.

Without him, the gymnastics dramedy “Stick It” would be unwatchably dreadful. With him, it’s still dreadful, but not so unwatchable. His scenes provide a bit of spark where it’s desperately needed. If you’re unconvinced that he’s one of the best actors around, consider how he took a poorly written character in a sloppy teenybopper movie and somehow still managed to find a bit of complexity, of humor, of interest to the part. Bridges is, as always, pretty fun to watch here.

And yet he’s stuck smack dab in the middle of a movie that wavers between stupid and obnoxious, a dim-witted sports flick that could only come from the writer of “Bring It On.” Yes, Jessica Bendinger - whose cheerleading comedy remains popular among many teens and critics alike despite its being one of the worst movies of the decade - churns out yet another script about teen girls saying witty things and bringing attitude to a mainly attitude-free activity.

How lame is “Stick It?” The opening scene is enough to get us to hate it: we watch as a bunch of punks crash a construction site for a little stunt biking, and when one of them plows straight through a window, causing thousands of dollars in property damage (yet remaining unscathed, natch), we’re supposed to GASP! when the biker is revealed to be… a girl!

Apparently this switcheroo never, ever gets old for hacks in need of a lazy character introduction, yet it demeans the entire picture. Here is a movie about girl power - why not just start off with footage of the gal outriding the boys? Why force a gender cliché upon the viewers when we don’t need it (or want it, for that matter)? Why put off saying “here’s what women can do” just so you can drum out some asinine joke built on outdated gender expectations? Because you’re a hack writer who can’t think of a fresh way to start your movie, that’s why.

Anyway. The gasp-she’s-a-girl! biker, Haley Graham (Missy Peregrym), is busted by the cops; the judge (Polly Holliday - yes, Flo from TV’s “Alice!”) agrees to a plan to send her not to juvie but to a gymnastics academy in Houston. You see, before Haley went all hardcore punk (well, a teen girl-friendly movie version of hardcore punk, at least), she was an ace gymnast, but then she got tired of being judged and bailed on her team right before the big championships. And now this pouty rebel has to deal with frilly gymnast types? Gee, I wonder how that will play out…

It’s just as you’d expect. Haley doesn’t wanna do what coach Jeff Bridges tells her to do, ’cause she’s all punk n’ stuff, but, like, she also has to put up with this bitchy starlet (Vanessa Lengies), and, like, they hate each other at first but then Haley learns to give in a little and the bitch learns to go punk a little, and then Haley does these little rock n’ roll devil horns during the big championship, and that’s like, sooooo punk, right?

Disturbingly, this is not the reason for the movie. No, all this hackneyed junk about a cool outsider teaching the stuffy types to lighten up (all the while learning something about herself in the process!) is just window dressing for what turns out to be - and oh, how I wish I was making this up - a serious political diatribe against scoring systems in gymnastics.

Seriously.

It begins innocently enough, with Haley explaining how much she hated having to conform to judges’ standards. Just when you think that’s all just teen angst seeping through, we come to the big competition at story’s end, and the talk about judging being, like, so totally unfair increases, so much that the television personalities even start crying out about how scoring is arbitrary and mean. The judges are played off as moustache-twirling villains (much is made about how they won’t back off from a tenth-of-a-point deduction made on a technicality) that soon get the entire arena audience booing them. And what saves the day? Why, a rebel attitude and a rock n’ roll spirit, of course!

All of this is, frankly, stupid. Straight up, flat out stupid. Bendinger’s screenplay comes off like the whiny ramblings of a sore loser; one can picture her storming off after a bad score, crying, “well, yeah, the whole scoring system is bogus, and the judges just hate me, and I’m going to write a movie all about it!” There’s an immaturity revolving around the entire picture, and when you factor in the lame-brained dialogue and ridiculous plot, you realize that this is a movie for fourteen-year-olds that feels like it’s been written by one.

Bendinger (who also makes her directorial debut, lucky us) starts off with an unlikable concept - girly-girly sport shaken up by punk attitude - that she already covered (badly) in “Bring It On.” “Stick It” then becomes a rehash of lousy material. After wiggling through a half-assed attempt to let us have a peek at the private world of professional gymnasts, after tossing us a giant pile of stale material, after writing dialogue that sounds written without ever sounding clever, after throwing in bland, pick-out-the-stunt-performer sport scenes mixed with photography tricks desperate to spice up the sports scenes, Bendinger finally makes her way to her grand intent, blowing the whistle on something that really needs no whistles blown. It’s whiny and ridiculous and obnoxious as all get out.

But hey, at least Jeff Bridges doesn’t suck.

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