Friday, 24 April 2015

REVIEW REVISITED: The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists! (2012)

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This is a reprint of my review which was first published on this blog in May 2012, with a number of minor revisions. My original review can be found here.

The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists! (UK, 2012)
Directed by Peter Lord
Starring Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman, David Tennant, Imelda Staunton

Film critics often get it in the neck for overanalysing or expecting too much from films which, for some people, are only designed to entertain. While expecting nothing other than fun from the movies will prevent one from properly exploring all that the medium has to offer, it is also true that reviewers have to keep their feet on the ground. Every so often we have to defend a film mainly because we enjoyed ourselves - and, ironically, the simplest pleasures are often the hardest to explain.
The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists! is a good example of this phenomenon. On the surface there is nothing especially remarkable about it, either in the quality of the animation we have come to expect from Aardman, or in the conventional nature of its story. If one was in a bad mood, it would not take too long to dismantle the film, with withering comments about it not being first-rate Aardman. But the fact is that, after seeing this film, you're very unlikely to be in a bad mood.
The Pirates! (as it will hereafter be called) marks an interesting turning point in Aardman's history, at least from a technical viewpoint. Along with their previous digimation, Arthur Christmas, it marks the beginning of a partnership with Sony Pictures Animation, who three years earlier produced the hilariously surreal Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. This is significant due to the combination of traditional stop-motion and CG effects which were needed to bring the film to life.
When Aardman was creating Flushed Away, working in partnership with Dreamworks, a decision was taken early on to do the entire film in digimation, on account of how difficult water is to film and the damage it can do to plasticene. But for all its moments of charm, Flushed Away felt like Dreamworks had run roughshod over Aardman's creativity, reducing true genius into something a lot more ordinary.
Being set primarily at sea, The Pirates! involves a large amount of visual effects to create the water and the skyline around the stop-motion figures. But while Aardman and Dreamworks were constantly at loggerheads, on this occasion the effects blend beautifully, with the hand-crafted characters taking centre stage even in the most elaborate set-pieces. Aardman's strength has always been in stop-motion, and here they are allowed to work to their strengths.
As always with Aardman, the devil is in the detail. Their films are made by people who love cinema, pouring in references to films from their formative years to enrich the finished product. You won't spot all the sight gags, quirks and puns the first time round, but more importantly the story and characters are enjoyable enough to make you want to revisit them. The hearty laughs that do stick in one's mind, whether it's the fish-in-a-hat gag or the ship leaving red markers on the map, are almost like teasers in themselves, part of a gift that just keeps on giving.
The film has great set-pieces which rival anything in either Chicken Run (Peter Lord's previous film) or Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. The rooftop chase, in which Charles Darwin attempts to steal the last living dodo, builds like an old-fashioned 1980s action sequence, using the full spread of the house to maximum effect. The sequence of the bath careering down the stairs pursued by a tumbling head is like an extended version of the boulder chase in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and there is a nice, brief nod to Jurassic Park as the bath leaps majestically through an enormous skeleton.
While Curse of the Were-Rabbit was rooted in horror movies, paying homage to Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Hammer movies and An American Werewolf in London, The Pirates! is grounded in the old-fashioned adventure of Errol Flynn and Richard Lester's The Three Musketeers. The action sequences feel like they have been choreographed to allow for the fewest number of edits, with Lord and his animators understanding that audiences are often more impressed by the scale of a battle than the pace as which it appears to unfold.
The release of The Pirates! internationally has not been without mishap. Aardman received a complaint from Lepra Health in Action, requesting that a scene of a leper's arm falling off be removed for misrepresenting victims of leprosy. More worryingly, in America the title was changed to The Pirates! Band of Misfits!. While film titles are commonly changed, this is symptomatic of marketers having low opinions of a film's potential audience. It is ludicrous to believe that the world 'scientist' would put Americans off seeing the film. It certainly doesn't change the relatively heroic role accorded to Charles Darwin.
The characters in The Pirates! continue the Aardman tradition created by Nick Park of the inept but extremely confident protagonist. The Pirate Captain is fully aware of the motley nature of his crew, observing in one of the film's best sight gags that some of his crew are just "fish that I've dressed up in a hat." But he is as confident in his ability to plunder as Wallace is in his inventions. Martin Freeman's first mate acts as the Gromit-like foil, trying to do the right thing while harbouring a sense of long-suffering duty towards his oldest friend.
The biggest criticism of The Pirates! has been its storyline. Because it combines two of Gideon Dafoe's children's books, there is a lot of plot to get through in 90-odd minutes. And because the film is not a direct pastiche like Curse of the Were-Rabbit, it doesn't have quite as rigid a structure as one might like. But some critics would go further and claim that its emotional arc is too predictable, with our heroes jumping through narrative hoops without offering anything new.
There's an old adage that the difference between a convention and a cliché is the emotional response that surrounds it: if we are enjoying ourselves, it's a convention, and if not, it's a cliché. The fact is, even if The Pirates! is in familiar waters, it is funnier and more lovingly crafted than any of the similar stories which clog up our multiplexes in the summer season. We should not take Aardman's craftsmanship for granted, and must be willing to promote this genuine passion for craft almost in spite of its familiar elements.
The film also passes the acid test of any comedy, never letting up in its ability to make you laugh. The running gags surrounding the Pirate Captain's boarding parties are very well thought-out, as are the crew's disguises and the numerous map scenes. The more whimsical jokes, involving baby clothes, baboon's kidneys and ham night, are all first-rate Aardman, and Lord's comic timing is on a par with Park's in judging where and when to play out every single gag.
The cast of The Pirates! is also of a high standard. Hugh Grant, in his first animated role, handles the Pirate Captain with such aplomb that afterwards you won't be able to imagine him without that beard. Imelda Staunton is terrific as Queen Victoria, with a performance that makes her character in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix look tame by comparison. David Tennant and Martin Freeman provide great support in their respective roles, with the former's geeky excitability offsetting the latter's world-weariness. And as for Brian Blessed's cameo... suffice to say, no-one else could have played that part.
The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists! is a really great family film which will hold up to repeat viewing every bit as well as Aardman's previous offerings. Peter Lord directs superbly, handling a talented cast with near-perfect measure and blending the stop-motion and CGI very well. While it's not quite perfect, it bodes very well for the future of Aardman, with or without Wallace and Gromit.

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NEXT REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

Thursday, 23 April 2015

OVERRATED: Star Trek (2009)

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Star Trek (USA, 2009)
Directed by J. J. Abrams
Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Eric Bana, Leonard Nimoy

J. J. Abrams is perhaps the single most overrated filmmaker working today. In a cinema age dominated by marketing and brand name recognition, he is the crown prince of hype, who has pulled off audacious levels of success by pulling the wool over our eyes. He is the master of taking something which is ordinary, unremarkable or downright poor and making it appear like the Second Coming of compulsive viewing. He is, to put it another way, our generation's Wizard of Oz.
Having sold us a decent monster movie in Cloverfield, and co-created the most overrated TV series of all in Lost, Abrams has now turned his hyping hands to Star Trek. In the series' first outing since Star Trek: Nemesis seven years earlier, Abrams attempts to reboot the entire series and bring in a new, younger audience while appeasing long-time fans. What results is promising and watchable, but it also squanders a lot of its potential and ultimately leaves us feeling empty.
 
There can be no denying that Star Trek looks good. Notwithstanding Abrams' baffling obsession with lens-flare (which reared its ugly head again in Super 8 two years later), the film is a breath of fresh air for those who endlessly groaned about the creaky special effects in 'Trek films. You won't find any plastic rocks or monsters made out of pipe cleaners here, with the CGI being crisp and the aliens realised in a generally convincing way. The camera may be on the move a little too often for those of us who like stories to unfold naturalistically, but cinematographer Daniel Mindel keeps us on an even keel with attractive lighting and responsive compositions.
 
From a character perspective, Star Trek manages to give us fresh character portrayals which also tie up well with their older selves. We can certainly believe that these young characters will grow into the people we know from the TV series and original films. Chris Pine nicely captures the headstrong, impulsive, reckless nature of Kirk, and there are early traces in Zachary Quinto's performance of the imperious stoicism that the late Leonard Nimoy made his own. The best piece of casting, however, is Karl Urban as Bones: he's so hilariously irascible, but the film never lays on the humour too thick in either his performance or his dialogue.
 
Because the film is attempting to appease old fans as well as bring in the new, there are quite a lot of references to the Star Trek back catalogue in here. The sequence of Sulu sword-fighting is a slightly updated restaging of George Takei's swordfighting in 'The Naked Time', and the reappearance of the Kobayashi Maru immediately brings to mind Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Some references are broad and well-known, such as the Prime Directive and the Romulans, while others are more obscure: Captain Pike will be a familiar figure only to those who saw the original pilot.
 
When interviewed for the BBC's Red Dwarf Night in 1998, Patrick Stewart said that he wished some of the show's "wild, ironic humour" could have been incorporated into The Next Generation. Regardless of how well this would have worked, there is quite a lot of welcome humour to be found in Star Trek. One of the biggest problems of the original series was how seriously William Shatner played every scene, when the sensible thing would have been to acknowledge its limitation and knowingly embrace its silliness. Here, we get to see Kirk as more of a wisecracker, and Spock is the perfect foil, especially during his early scenes at Starfleet.
 
So far, Star Trek is shaping up to be decent effort, improving on the originals' production values, bringing more humour to the table and doing justice to the characters. But there's one massive problem with Star Trek which leads onto several smaller but equally bothersome problems, and when combined they ultimately scupper this film.
 
The single biggest problem with Star Trek is this: it's not a proper 'Trek film, because it isn't driven by ideas. Even at their weakest, the Star Trek series and film franchise were idea- or concept-led, much like the halcyon days of Doctor Who; rather than simply settling for a clearly drawn, good vs. evil pantomime, they tried (albeit with many failures) to tackle subjects which were interesting, complex or provocative. For everything that is wrong with Star Trek: The Motion Picture or Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, they deserve a modicum of credit for the ideas they attempt to espouse.
 
Star Trek starts off very promisingly, but it eventually becomes a Star Wars film by any other name. It's not surprising that Abrams was more of a Star Wars fan than a Trekkie growing up, with the resemblances growing stronger as the film progresses. The entire sequence on the ice planet is simply the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back with a bigger, less memorable monster.
 
To claim that Star Trek does for Starfleet what Batman Begins did for the Caped Crusader is to overstate its virtues while doing Christopher Nolan a hue disservice. When Nolan approached the Batman franchise, which had been in hibernation for a similar length of time, he wanted to take Batman back to its dark, moral roots, reshaping the iconography to explore complex philosophical ideas. It's no surprise that Abrams is now helming the latest Star Wars film, because he clears prefers spectacle to scintillating conversation, and dog-fighting to dissections of dogma.
 
All the aspects of Star Trek which should have weight is either overlooked or quickly abandoned. The time travel and comparisons between the universes are reduced to an Austin Powers-style plot device: Kirk's conversations with Spock Prime are largely padding, with Nimoy's appearance serving as a sop to older fans. The red matter used by Nero (a good performance by Eric Bana) could have been explored in the manner of the Genesis device, as a symbol of how uncontrollably powerful yet dangerous the desire for revenge can be. Instead, it becomes just another plot mechanism, brought up occasionally in an attempt to add drama when it actually does nothing of the sort.
 
Then there is the problem of sexualisation, with Star Trek going strongly after the teenage boy market at the expense of everyone else. The romance between Spock and Uhura makes little sense and goes nowhere, and then there are the costumes. On the one hand we have the shots of Uhura and her roommate in their underwear for no good reason; on the other hand, all the woman wear very short skirts, but all the men are always fully clothed. It's bizarre that Star Trek Into Darkness got such a public wrap for a similar double standard while this escaped seemingly unscathed.
 
Although Gene Roddenberry always intended to make a prequel to the original Star Trek series, this film does not honour the intentions or spirit of his work in any meaningful way. While the best 'Trek films were properly plotted and ended on a strong and resonant note, this gradually unspools into a series of incoherent and frankly boring battle scenes. We are constantly bombarded by noise, special effects and lens-flare but not given enough by way of character stakes to keep us interested.
 
Star Trek is a disappointment which could easily have been better if anyone other than Abrams had directed it. While it generally looks better than some of the other films in the series, and benefits from a good-humoured cast, on a narrative level it has far too little between its ears and not enough substance or discipline to sustain our attention. As a totally disposible slice of space fantasy, you could do a awful lot worse, but true 'Trek fans will not be abandoning the old films any time soon.

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I previously mentioned Star Trek in my WhatCulture! article on Eric Bana's career. Check out the article in full here. You can also read my tribute to Leonard Nimoy here, and my WhatCulture! article on Patrick Stewart's career here.

NEXT REVIEW: The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists! (2012)

Monday, 13 April 2015

REVIEW REVISITED: Skyfall (2012)

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This is a reprint of my review which was first published on this blog in November 2012, with a number of minor revisions. My original review can be found here. 

Skyfall (UK/ USA, 2012)
Directed by Sam Mendes
Starring Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes 

Like any long-running film franchise or TV series, it is interesting to note the ways in which the Bond series has acknowledged its longevity. While the 10th, 20th and 30th anniversaries passed by relatively quietly, with no films being released to coincide, the 40th anniversary was marked by Die Another Day, a greatest hits compilation with little narrative pull which was in hindsight downright embarrassing.
 
Skyfall is a more confident and impressive offering all round, marking the 50th anniversary with a film which looks far back into the series' past while also making a conscious effort to appear modern and cutting-edge. The result is technically superb, with Sam Mendes bringing weight to the characters and the visuals being some of the best in the whole series. But the film also demonstrates how fundamentally little Bond has changed, something which is cause for both concern and celebration.
 
The Bond series has always been at its best whenever it has had to defend its existence. The previous attempts at reinvention - Casino Royale, and Goldeneye before that - were prompted by perceptions that the series was old-fashioned, caused respectively by the game-changing Bourne series and the end of the Cold War. But while these films are impressive technical exercises, which still feel in isolation like a breath of fresh air, the basic formula has remained more or less the same for 50 years. The series has become so much of a genre in itself that any claim of reinvention or radical departure should be greeted with extreme caution.
 
Bond has always assimilated ideas and stories raised in other films; it's one of the many ways the series has remained relevant, or at least appeared to be that way. Skyfall continues to follow the trail blazed by Bourne by showing the extent of high-tech surveillance, and how advances in communications have changed the way that decisions are taken about people's lives. Both the villain and the revamped Q branch borrow from The Social Network, a film which argued that the world is now run not by governments but by technical wizards, and by extension how 'nerds' have grown from being perceived as harmless and weak into a force to be reckoned with.
 
Skyfall also contains a number of prominent visual references to other films, past and present. The entire sequence in Shanghai owes a massive debt to Blade Runner: the shot of Bond's gun in moving close-up and the fight against the Japanese signage are eerily close to Ridley Scott's masterpiece. There are also touches of Inception present in the lift scene and on the villain's island, whose ruined buildings could have come straight from Christopher Nolan's Limbo.
 
On top of all that, the film contains a great many nods to its own back catalogue. Much of the plot, while appearing original, hints back to conversations in Goldeneye. The allusions to Bond's parents are akin to the scene with 006 among the fallen idols, and the central duality is structured along the same lines: like Alec Trevelyan, Silva was betrayed by his homeland, and represents what Bond could have been had things turned out slightly differently. The journey "back in time" in the iconic Aston Martin DB5 is a direct nod to the Sean Connery era, Silva has a passing resemblance to Jaws from The Spy Who Loved Me, and there are two passing references to The Man with the Golden Gun, in Shanghai and with the shooting of the mirror at Skyfall.
 
The key point here is that everything we see, we have seen before, either in the Bond series or in the many other films on which it draws. What makes Skyfall successful (and memorable) is the way in which these ideas are presented or repackaged, so that they appear either original or become distinctive to the character. Having an abundance of references was largely to be expected, given the occasion that is being marked, and if nothing else the film scores over Die Another Day by actually having a coherent and interesting story.
 
The central irony about Skyfall is that its story is very much anti-Bond, but it is being told in a by-the-numbers, classic Bond way. The story is a not-too-distant cousin to The Ipcress File or Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, insofar as it uses a troubled yet distinctly British protagonist to focus on the changing mechanics of the secret service, particularly the ways in which technology is altering or eroding the role of agents. This is reflected in the numerous scenes of M answering to politicians, the increasing dominance of Q branch, and the conversations between M and Mallory.
 
But whereas Tomas Alfredson went against the grain with his film, openly eschewing the conventions of a spy thriller, Mendes tells this story in the manner of the classic Bonds. We go through the same motions as all the Bond films after Diamonds are Forever, with Bond being sent on a difficult mission after a riveting pre-title sequence. He snoops around with an attractive sidekick-cum-love interest, who despite seeming more forthright and independent still takes a back seat, in more ways than one. After several fights with secondary villains, he and the main antagonist meet and talk about the plot. There then ensues a cat-and-mouse chase over several locations, eventually resulting in Bond triumphing, sometimes with a deep personal cost.
 
If we try to see Skyfall as a genuine reinvention of the Bond series, we will quickly come unstuck as these clichés keep coming. No-one has yet had the confidence to fully abandon Bond's gadgets, vodka martinis or inherent sexual magnetism; even when Timothy Dalton made him cruel and dangerous, the character was still placed within conventional surroundings. If, on the other hand, we see this film as a genre exercise, whose mechanics we know inside out, then the film takes flight and becomes remarkable. It's like a well-directed production of The Mousetrap: predictable and often silly, but presented so confidently that it becomes endearing.
 
Taken purely as a Bond film, Skyfall is an incredibly well-made addition to the series. Despite its prominent references to other films, it is visually distinctive and spectacular. The film is shot by the fantastic Roger Deakins, who collaborated with Mendes on Jarhead and Revolutionary Road. He paints the film in a number of metallic greys and silvers, giving the action a polished sheen even in its most kinetic moments. Mendes' camerawork compliments him very well, relying less on Bourne-inflected hand-held work and more on longer, sweeping shots to establish the scale of the locations.
 
Mendes also comes up trumps in making us care about the characters. It's tempting to just view them as archetypes and therefore let the film wash over us, but even with all our cynicism we do invest in Bond and the people around him. Daniel Craig is beginning to rival Dalton for the title of Best Bond, continuing the intensity he cultivated in the last two films and really showing the strain of the character. Javier Bardem may be more pantomime here than he was in No Country for Old Men, but he's still intimidating, and his introductory shot is one of the best in the series.
 
Judi Dench remains compelling as M, and the film takes the time to show how her relationship with Bond has developed over the series. While Bernard Lee's M more or less stayed the same from film to film, her M has gone from calling Bond a "sexist, misogynist dinosaur" to some form of emotional kinship. Elsewhere Ben Whishaw impresses as Q, clearly drawing on Brains from Thunderbirds, and Ralph Fiennes is in his element as Mallory, though at times he tips over into his performance as Victor Quartermaine in Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.
 
Skyfall is a highly enjoyable and technically impressive way to mark 50 years of James Bond. It's nothing like as ground-breaking as has been claimed, with all the clichés of the series being celebrated in amongst all the subterfuge. But as a genre piece in and of itself, it delivers on almost every level, thanks to the believable central performances and Mendes' assured direction. The only question that remains is whether these high standards can be sustained for Spectre.

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For further Bond reading, check out my article on bad Bond films here.

NEXT REVIEW: Star Trek (2009)

Thursday, 9 April 2015

CULT CLASSIC: Bring It On (2000)

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Bring It On (USA, 2000)
Directed by Peyton Reed
Starring Kirsten Dunst, Eliza Dushku, Jesse Bradford, Gabrielle Union

F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby, once said: "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." His point was that coming down on one side or another in a given argument is relatively easy, while it takes an active and detailed engagement with the topic in hand to understand the implications of each opinion.
It's difficult to know exactly what Fitzgerald would have made of Bring It On. The chances are that he would have hated it, given his bad experience of working in Hollywood in the 1930s, turning out scripts for Joseph L. Mankiewicz. But his maxim does provide us with a useful means of assessment, since Bring It On leaves us completely in two minds. Peyton Reed's debut effort is both a bitingly cheerful snipe at cheerleading and a confused missed opportunity. Whichever side you gravitate towards, it is definitely worthy of its cult status.
When I reviewed Stick It, I spoke at great lengths about the difficulties of writing believable female characters, particulary when it comes to sports films. One could write whole theses on the notion that cinema as a medium could be considered inherently masculine, but in any case the sports genre is dominated by stories of men rather than of women. Hence any sports film which centres around women, or addresses the standards to which they must confirm, has to overcome both the standard baggage that comes with writing female characters and the extra baggage of the genre's reputation and target market.
Because Bring It On is positioning itself as a satire, it must do two things to succeed. Firstly, it must get to grips with its subject matter, exposing the absurdities and hypocrisies of cheerleading in a humourous and relatable way. And secondly, it must achieve this while giving us characters which feel like real people, either by having them expose cheerleading from the outside, or by doing a Spinal Tap and making us laugh as their delusional levels of self-belief.
In both respects, Bring It On is a partial success, albeit in a deeply frustrating way. In essence, it does a great job of showing us how shallow and pointless cheerleading is by making us actively hate pretty much all the characters. The result is that we are completely on board with its criticisms of the sport, but feel like an audience at a circus laughing at clowns rather than feeling for the people under the make-up.
This would be fine, up to a point, but as the film moves on its plot movements become more predictable and it attempts to turn its whole premise on its head. Having got across a clear message about the stupidity of cheerleading, through characters which take it so seriously that it hurts, it then mutates into a feel-good underdog comedy in which we are meant to root for Kirsten Dunst and her term of perfectionist brats. The tone of the dialogue doesn't change much, but the shift is not wholly convincing and ends up softening a lot of the satirical blow.
If there is one word to describe the entire tone of Bring It On, it is bitchy. The film is written by Jessica Bendinger, who would later demonstrate on Stick It that she could write a range of interesting, very different female characters (and direct them very nicely too). Here, however, it quickly becomes difficult to distinguish between the main protagonists. We can identify Missy because she sees through the group's vacuity, and we remember Kirsten Dunst's character because of her subsequent success. Everyone else, on the other hand, is much of a catty muchness.
As a result, Bring It On can often come across as grating and stereotypical. We're all familiar with the many film and TV cliches surrounding cheerleaders, whether they are spiteful and spoilt (Libby from Sabrina the Teenage Witch) or so oversexualised that it borders on creepy (subverted in Jennifer's Body). But Bring It On doesn't make as much effort as it could to challenge any of the personality traits associated with the sport. It just assumes that we already find cheerleaders annoying, turns the characters briefly up to 11 and leaves it at that.
It is entirely possible to make a compelling and interesting film which is populated with characters who are unlikeable or even reprehensible. The classic Ealing comedies, like The Ladykillers and Kind Hearts and Coronets, did it all the time, giving us protagonists who were often jaded, corrupt or just plain malevolent and somehow making us bond with them. The key, as is so often the case, is character development: we have to learn something about the characters to make them seem more human and less one-dimensionally hateful, a point that I raised in my negative review of Sightseers.
Bring It On does fare better in this regard than Ben Wheatley's deeply misjudged dark comedy, but it's still stymied by its predictable story arc. When it's in its early stages, documenting the early failures of the group and all the girls' misplaced anxieties, it feels like a freeform, independently-spirited comedy drama which in the right hands could have been great. But as the more familiar plot elements encroach, the character development is put on hold in favour of montages, physical set-pieces and a strange desire to cheer us up.
Had Reed and Bendinger stuck to their guns and given us a darker, more twisted look at cheerleading, this film could and should have been a whole lot better. Dunst's comic timing and perky demeanour could have been used to expose some of the physical pressures affecting cheerleaders, whether from within the squads, from the teams that they support, or from outside expectations. It wouldn't have needed to be Heathers with pompoms, but there are opportunities all throughout the running time for it to dig a little deeper - opportunities that it very rarely takes.
Part of the reason why it doesn't take these lies in Reed's sensibility. Prior to this, Reed mainly worked in TV, directing episodes of the animated Back to the Future series as well as remakes of Disney's The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes and The Love Bug. Despite the presence of The Evil Dead star Bruce Campbell in the latter, none of these efforts are becoming of a would-be cult director. They're largely safe and harmless affairs, which often pull back from doing anything controversial or radical.
What makes Bring It On worthy of cult status is not how cutting-edge or adventurous it is. Instead it's a misshapen oddity, a film which can never quite decide what it wants to be and why. Under normal circumstances, this would render it a failure along the lines of Oliver & Company, to continue the Disney theme. But while it's trying hard to make up its mind, it plays out its conflicted self in a memorable and enjoyable manner on screen, a facet which ultimately redeems it.
If we approach Bring It On looking only for Spinal Tap levels of insight and intelligence, we'll quickly grow disappointed and lose interest. If, on the other hand, we come looking for entertainment, while being open to the idea of maybe learning something, then the film becomes much more agreeable all-round. The substance is still there in muted form, and the film is every bit as conflicted, but like Highlander its flaws are overriden by one's desire to enjoy the action, even if just to admire the prowess of the performers.
If nothing else, the film is another feather in the cap of Kirsten Dunst as an actress. Having cut her teeth as a child actress, in the likes of Jumanji and Kiki's Delivery Service, this was one of the first roles which began to establish her as an adult talent. This is probably the part that contributed most to her being cast in Spider-Man: Torrance Shipman has a perky yet headstrong quality to her which draws some comparisons with Mary-Jane Watson. Dunst carries the action with ease, and as with Get Over It the following year, her presence causes everyone else to lift their game. 
Bring It On is a heavily flawed cult oddity which should be embraced as entertainment in spite of its satirical shortcomings. Fans of satire will find good cause to complain that it doesn't go far enough in either its characterisations or its deconstruction of cheerleading, but its flaws makes it a more refreshing perspective on the sport than many other teen-aimed efforts of the day. It's nowhere near as good as Stick It, but there are many worst sports films that you could be forced to endure. 

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NEXT REVIEW: Skyfall (2012)