Bring It On: examining its straight-to-DVD sequels

There are now a staggering four sequels to 2000's feelgood cheerleading hit Bring It On, but are they any good?

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

This article contains spoilers for the assorted Bring It On movies.

2000’s Bring It On is a very odd duck. 

It’s not that the film is particularly innovative about how it spins its narrative – there’s a pretty standard set of beats in place for a sports movie – but traditionally, sports movies don’t tend to have a predominantly female cast (and even something like A League Of Their Own was somewhat led by Tom Hanks). Not only that, it’s a movie with a predominately female cast that isn’t entirely focused on love or romance. It’s about teamwork and finding a different way to climb to the top without treading on those less privileged – another message that hasn’t exactly bloomed in the 16 years since its release.

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Those who love Bring It On are usually separated into two categories: those that love it unashamedly, get where it’s coming from and find it harmless enough – and those who would tend to refer to it as a ‘guilty pleasure’. That second lot have probably found themselves justifying why they’ve been caught alone at home watching it at some point, tucked up in bed wearing their pyjamas and eating Ben & Jerry’s directly from the tub:

“I just like Eliza Dushku, she’s very sexy.”

“Then why do you know the words to all the cheers, Martin?”

“I have a very good memory, Karen! Don’t make me unpack how I consume my media!”

True, Eliza Dushku’s appearance in Bring It On had a fairly huge impact on the film’s success – if not in the cinema, then definitely on home release. Dushku had made a big splash on TV in Buffy The Vampire Slayer the previous year and fans of the show wanted to see more of her. Although she doesn’t play the lead character in the film, she may as well have if you were a Buffy fan.

Kirsten Dunst plays the actual lead in the film as the unlikely-named Torrance Shipman, a girl whose dreams seem to come true when she finally takes the head cheerleader spot at Rancho Carne High School. But Missy (Dushku) brings her world crashing down when she joins the squad and recognises the cheer routines as being stolen from a rival team. As we head into the second act, it’s back to the drawing board for Missy and Torrance as they try to work out how to cheer their way to first place at the climactic National Championships, with very little time to lose and without the safety net of their stolen moves.

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It’s zippy and decently put together, as you would probably expect from the uneven hand of Peyton Reed – a director that managed to win over a fair whack of angry fans as a last-minute replacement for Edgar Wright on Marvel’s Ant-Man (no small feat) – and the third act Nationals routines are at least as energising as any Mighty Ducks movie, leaving the whole thing with the kind of feel-good vibe you want from a teen sports romp.

Bring It On made $90.4 million on a paltry $11 million budget and so, running the numbers, you’d absolutely expect it to have a sequel – but four sequels?

I watched them all, in search of a gem…

Bring It On Again (2004)

Despite arriving four years after the release of the first film, Bring It On Again smacks of a rushed-into-production sequel, arriving straight-to-DVD with a barely-there budget and a Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj ambience that does it no favours. 

This time, we follow Whittier Smith (Anne Judson-Yager) as she arrives at college with all her fingers and toes crossed for her chance at joining the varsity cheerleading squad, along with her buddy from cheer camp, Monica (Faune Chambers). Head cheerleader Tina (Bree Turner) is bristled by the attitude of the two young hopefuls, and despite taking Whittier under her wing for head cheerleader replacement grooming, the snark is soon flying and the bad feelings between the girls bring them to a point where Whittier and Monica have to flee and start their own squad of campus rejects, including Felicia Day (there’s your Buffy connection for this ride).

The film is sandwiched between two sections that have bafflingly become part of the Bring It On format: an opening dream sequence that establishes the main character’s cheering anxieties and a closing credits sequence of outtakes and happy dancing. There’s also the third act cheer-off that’ll hopefully be joyful enough to make you not entirely regret having sat through the whole thing, but sadly it doesn’t quite so much as put a cherry on the top of this film as hand you a jar of glacé cherries and apologise profusely for the terrible service.

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The second Bring It On movie is definitely a disappointment, but things only get more confusing from here on out…

Bring It On: All Or Nothing (2006)

The straight-to-DVD Dirty Dancing of the Bring It On sequels, All Or Nothing is so excruciatingly problematic, I hesitate to imagine that I can even pick apart the bones of it without opening a sack full of micro-aggressive worms, but I shall endeavour to try.

This time, Hayden Panettiere (Heroes) is our star and things are a lot more jarringly sexual and ‘edgy’ for reasons that are never quite explained, but we slowly come to accept because Panettiere’s presence has nearly always been accompanied by a sexual undercurrent, despite her not doing much in the way of pandering to it. The role at least seems like a natural sidestep for her after the initially super fun ‘save the cheerleader, save the world’ storyline she was born to carry in Tim Kring’s superhero TV spectacle.

Panettiere plays Britney Allen in All Or Nothing, a rich cheerleading captain dating the high school quarterback who loses it all when her father gets the boot and the family have to move to a disadvantaged neighbourhood. At this point in the Wikipedia entry for the film, both ‘tokenism’ and ‘culture shock’ categories are referenced, so you know where this is going.

Yes, Britney is the only white girl on the block and she’s soon pissing everyone off by staying loyal to her old teammates, refusing to cheer with her new school’s non-white squad and following her own path – which appears to lead nowhere and involves doing very little except complaining that she isn’t cheerleading or rich anymore – but male cheerleader and sort-of bad boy Jesse (Gus Carr) unexpectedly befriends Britney, and their romance is soon littered with several cringe-inducing scenes, one of which involves Panettiere learning to krump and encouraging the rest of the squad to try it.

Eventually, Panettiere comes around and ditches her old friends for the new squad – headed by irrefutable queen Solange Knowles – and they storm the stage at a TV cheerleading competition being overseen by Rhianna (who very much looks like she’d rather not be there at all) for the cheer off to end all cheer offs.

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It should be briefly mentioned at this stage that Panettiere’s desperation to earn her new squad’s acceptance culminates with her turning up in a leisure suit and partial cornrows, referring to her former friend as a “white girl” and teaching all the urban kids that it’s cool to krump, but without getting too Forrest Gump on you, that’s all I have to say about that.

Shamefully, it’s all very fun to watch – but only in the same way as Soul Man is fun to watch, i.e. not on any justifiably objective level.

Bring It On: In It To Win It (2007)

The strangest of the sequels by a country mile, Bring It On: In It To Win It is for some reason best known to the creators a kind of West Side Story, but with cheerleading. Steve Rash, who directed the third film, returns to helm In It To Win It, although there isn’t any obvious retention of style to give us any clues as to why.

The Sharks and the Jets are arch-rival cheering squads, thrust together at cheer camp – a place vaguely explored in the first movie when Dunst’s character becomes concerned with the idea that she might be cursed from dropping the Spirit Stick, the revered object that embodies all that is unique about cheering ideology – and facing off at regular intervals, especially when the Spirit Stick vanishes and they start hoisting the blame on each other.

Plot-wise, that’s pretty much it, and we’re treated to the usual Bring It On-isms as bookends. An opening cheer routine led by the protagonist that turns out to be a dream sequence? Check. End credits outtakes and cast dancing? Check. In addition, there’s an actual homage to West Side Story in the form of a dance off, complete with finger snaps.

If that doesn’t sound too bad, I hesitate to inform you that it is actually very bad. The story trundles along aimlessly for a fairly painful 90 minutes, and the film it ends up most closely resembling is Revenge Of The Nerds II: Nerds In Paradise.

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Bikinis, cheer puns and snark-offs in the sun do not a coherent story make. Avoid.

Bring It On: Fight To The Finish (2009)

Billie Woodruff of Honey and Beauty Shop fame directed the most recent of the Bring It On sequels and it’s a cut above the rest, as we finally get a breath of fresh air with the casting of another new lead role.

Grammy-nominated singer and sometime actress Christina Millian stars here as Lina Cruz, a cheerleader from an urban neighbourhood whose mother marries a rich white dude and forces her to relocate to a posher area. Surprisingly, this is all handled quite well, and we get to meet a series of characters from Lina’s old haunts that come out to help bring her new school’s floundering cheer squad up to scratch.

As Lina copes with racist taunts from the school’s opposing head cheerleader, she slowly accepts that even though her life is changing she shouldn’t have to ditch the things that make her an individual in this typical fish-out-of-water scenario, and things head toward a climax accompanied by a very pro-multicultural theme that seems to be entirely relevant in our current anti-immigration climate. As a result, this film feels a little more grounded than the rest of the sequels. Of course, there are still the cheer-offs, jokes and snappy insults we’ve come to expect from the franchise, but there’s more going on under the surface of Fight To The Finish and I’d happily watch it again.

In truth, none of the sequels are as good as the original, but this is probably the best one. You might disagree, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from sitting through five Bring It On movies, it’s that we’re living in a cheerocracy and we must all bend to the will of the cheertator.

Until next time.

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