Stick It

2006stickit3Movie review by Greg Carlson

A half-hearted take on the rebellious teen formula, “Stick It” fails to deliver much of anything, landing with a resounding thud and a zero-point-zero from the judges. Set in the world of elite women’s gymnastics, writer-director Jessica Bendinger’s film rehashes much of “Bring It On” (which Bendinger wrote and co-produced), only to tremendously diminished effect. Saddled with flat dialogue that most often treats the characters as types and afterthoughts, “Stick It” never picks up enough speed to deliver on the promise of its flashy opening credits sequence, a colorful montage of dripping graffiti more exciting than everything that follows.

A very wooden Missy Peregrym plays Haley Graham, a one-time national gymnastics contender who walked away from the sport for mysterious reasons (which are naturally explained on cue at a crucial moment late in the proceedings). Spending most of her time hot-dogging with a pair of BMX pals, Haley lands in court following a botched freestyle bike stunt that causes heaps of property damage. Given very little choice courtesy of her battling parents, Haley avoids juvenile detention by agreeing to attend VGA – the Vickerman Gymnastics Academy – where she is expected to return to her training.

“Stick It” nearly flickers to life once Haley arrives at VGA, thanks to the participation of Jeff Bridges, a tremendous actor who demonstrates that his gifts don’t fail him even when he’s chosen less than stellar material. As Burt Vickerman, the academy’s owner and head coach, Bridges infuses a thinly written role with a wellspring of dignity, charm, warmth, and humor (none of which would seem apparent on the page). The audience is offered very little background detail on Vickerman, but Bridges runs with what the screenplay gives him, filling in the rest with dexterity.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the other performers, who struggle valiantly to bring even a tiny glimmer of authenticity to Bendinger’s wretched writing. Peregrym is stuck playing the wounded kid with the chip on her shoulder, and her range toggles between sarcastic indignation and haughty defiance (always physically accompanied by a flash of the “devil horns” gesture). It doesn’t help that costume designer Carol Ramsey puts Peregrym in a grown-up’s idea of what a tough teenager would wear: mismatched tomboy togs accented by rock t-shirts of bands like the Ramones, Motorhead, Bad Brains, and AC/DC. One imagines the character would be hard pressed to name a single album by any of the artists, let alone actively listen to their music.

Outside the central conflict between Vickerman and Haley, “Stick It” paints by numbers. A weird scene in which Busby Berkeley-esque overhead shots accompany gymnasts in action cannot mask the film’s complete lack of intelligence and depth. Especially odious are Kellan Lutz and John Patrick Amedori as Haley’s close male pals. Their unfunny banter botches every scene in which they appear. Of the supporting cast, only Vanessa Lengies (overcoming line after line of inanities like “it’s not called gym-nice-stics”) manages to charm the audience. The final meet also contains a surprising turn that criticizes the arcane scoring system of competitive gymnastics, and the sequence is likely to win the hearts of many of the younger viewers.

This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 5/1/06.

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