Squeaky-clean and dirty at the same time, cheerleaders are the Energizer Bunnies of teen sexuality. The force that ricochets through their bodies, propelling them to limb-flinging feats of gymnastic extroversion, could have been invented only in America; the word for that force is, of course, pep. Pep, which has the same relation to enthusiasm as crack cocaine does to caffeine, is what happens when girls are possessed by a desire to whirl pom-poms around without actually revealing their … pom-poms. It’s what happens when you take the unhinged physical energy of sex and apply it entirely to winning.

But cheerleaders, in case you haven’t noticed, aren’t what they used to be. The teasy, haughty, panty-flashing randiness of their come-on, which was once a kind of collective smutty joke on all-American ”wholesomeness,” was first made outrageously apparent with the boisterous T&A antics of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders (and then made brazenly explicit with the late ’70s porn film Debbie Does Dallas). The champion high school cheerleading squad members of Bring It On aren’t pretending to be anyone’s goody two-sneakers. This is a movie in which every last girl, even the ”nice” heroine played by the game and vibrant Kirsten Dunst, has the grabby values and shrill, lacquered sex-bomb personality of a villainous ice princess in a John Hughes movie.

These babes barely even go in for pom-poms; they’re too hard to play with anything that soft. Adolescent dominatrices in athletic halter tops, they’re buffed and polished trophy vixens who reign over a take-no-prisoners consumer zone, where their perfect smiles and midriffs are the ultimate consumer prize. To say that they have pep wouldn’t do justice to their snooty, proudly fascist empowerment. They’ve got bitch pep. (Introducing your daughters’ new role models.)

Arriving at the end of a summer pockmarked by bad teen movies, Bring It On is something at least mildly different; it’s an okay brat movie. Torrance (Dunst), who’s perky and beautiful but so fine-boned that she barely looks resilient enough to be a cheerleader, takes over as team captain for the Toros, the Rancho Carne High School squad in San Diego, who have won the national championship five years in a row. Their routines, like all those madly synchronized cheerleader blitzkriegs you occasionally glimpse on ESPN, are a blast of goofy aerobic fireworks: human pyramids that move like videogames. Torrance, however, discovers that her squad’s meticulous body-tossing choreography has been ripped off from the East Compton Clov-rs, a black Los Angeles team that couldn’t afford to compete on the national circuit. When the Jennifer Beals character appropriated break-dance moves at the end of Flashdance, it was treated as a bold triumph of good-girl-gone-street movement (and racial sensitivity). Now, when all of youth culture has been thoroughly hip-hopped, the idea, I guess, is that even white girls need to find their moves … inside.

In essence, the plot of Bring It On is a demographic ploy — i.e., can the movie pull in young black viewers as well as white? Torrance and her crew may be going for their ”dream,” but the movie, which is clever enough to tweak their shallow obsession with victory, could scarcely care less; it’s really a celebration of their high-dis style of one-upmanship and heartless sexual bravado.

”This is not a democracy!” declares Torrance. ”It’s a cheerocracy!” Few actresses besides Kirsten Dunst could deliver that line with a straight face and make it seem innocent in its very arrogance. After her lovely ’70s daze in The Virgin Suicides, she gets to show some spunk here — maybe too much — but it’s her mixture of delicacy and vivacity that holds the picture together. At once porny and campy, Bring It On takes its tone from evil-strumpet beauty-contest comedies like Drop Dead Gorgeous (which also starred Dunst), from the trendy fashionista lingo of Clueless, and from MTV, the channel that helped transform the hot-bod exhibitionism of spring break into a year-round state of mind. In the new teen world, everyone is a walking pinup. There are a few boys on the cheerleader team, and they endure their share of ”fag” jokes (which the movie at once winks at and revels in), but since their main purpose is to serve as human pedestals, hoisting the heroines in the air, they’re just decorative beefcake. This is strictly a girls-rule fantasy.

I do wish the movie made flashier use of its pop soundtrack. The closing credits, which blend blooper outtakes with scenes of the actresses lip-synching to B*witched’s remake of Toni Basil’s ”Mickey,” has a bump-and-grind exhilaration that nothing preceding it can match. That said, Bring It On, a late-August throwaway pitched between exploitation and satire, has more life to it than such recent teen duds as Boys and Girls, Whatever It Takes, or the limp, cringe-worthy Loser. Those movies, in their way, were sincere; this one is proudly crass. That makes it, at the very least, of the moment. B-

Bring It On

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 98 minutes
  • Peyton Reed