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dir-scr Jessica Bendinger|
with Jeff Bridges, Missy Peregrym, Vanessa Lengies, Nikki SooHoo, Maddy Curley, Kellan Lutz, John Patrick Amedori, Gia Carides, Julie Warner, Tarah Paige, John Kapelos, Polly Holliday
release US 28.Apr.06, UK 13.Oct.06
06/US Disney 1h43
Battle of wills: Bridges and Peregrym
Writer Jessica Bendinger (Bring It On) adds directing to her résumé with this attitude-filled comedy set in the cutthroat world of gymnastics. Snappy dialog and some prickly satire give it an edge most of these youthful romps lack.
Haley (Peregrym) is a rebellious teen who spends her days indulging in extreme sports antics with her slacker pals (Lutz and Amedori). After a particularly spectacular stunt, a court order lands her in a gymnastics academy run by the has-been Burt (Bridges). She has a bad girl past as a gymnast as well, and fights Burt and her teammates (Lengies, SooHoo, Curley) every step of the way to the next competition. But there are Important Life Lessons to learn. And butts to kick.
The film's hyperkinetic editing style and lurid colour palette are balanced nicely by Bridges' warm cynicism and Peregrym's snide defiance. Expanses of primary-red gym mats are painted with girls in rainbow-coloured leotards, kaleidoscopically shot from above, Busby Berkeley-style, with plenty of digital trickery. It's pure eye candy that would be unbearably indulgent if it weren't for the jagged performances and the script's pointed observations on relationships and ambition. Not to mention rather a lot of organised-sport bashing.
The film often feels frothy and aimless, but then a surprisingly astute observation slips under your nose. Burt's mantra is "clean, safe routines guaranteed to stick", but the film is a celebration of fiery independence, seizing your destiny and refusing to blend into the crowd. While it's not particularly original, Bendinger at least has the nerve to go for the jugular, really sticking it to the gymnastics federation for a ludicrous judging system that strangles real achievement.
So it's a little odd that the best thing about the film is Bridges' worn-out but wise Burt. Sure, the girls are great fun, with lots of sass and energy as they travel this important journey of discovery. And yes, Bendinger can't resist layering on the shameless sentiment in the end, thankfully lightened by the film's general tetchiness. She even makes the overlong "I am Spartacus" finale so rousing that, if you're not careful, you might catch yourself cheering along.
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© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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