With Stick It, Jessica Bendinger looks to do for gymnastics what her Bring It On did for cheerleading: namely, give a stereotypically girlie-girl activity some defiant, individualistic attitude. Depicting her balance beam-and-pommel horse sport as “like the Navy SEALs, only harder,” Bendinger’s female empowerment tale follows disgraced gymnast and BMX-biking bad girl Haley (Missy Peregrym) as she’s shuttled, in lieu of going to jail for vandalism, to washed-up coach Burt Vickerman’s (Jeff Bridges) training academy for a rehabilitative regimen of tumbling and twirling. One can tell from Haley’s Black Flag and Motorhead t-shirts that she’s a rock n’ roll non-conformist firmly opposed to the sport’s restrictive, disciplined ethos. But for all her devil-horn hand gestures and arguments with Bridges’s amusingly gruff Burt, the combative athlete—like the film itself—really deals in a brand of sugary pop-punk rebellion tailor-made for the suburban mall set.
Drenched in rainbow colors and featuring multiple training montages scored to Green Day and Blink 182 (including a Busby Berkeley-inspired synchronized stretching sequence), Stick It assumes an insolent air while thoroughly adhering to countless clichés, from the bitchy adversary (Vanessa Lengies’s Joanne) who ultimately joins forces with Haley, to the superfluous comedic relief characters (played by Kellan Lutz and John Patrick Amedori), to the eventual triumph achieved via the girls’ decision to reject their manipulative parents and be themselves. That the film tries too hard to strike a hardcore pose is epitomized by Peregrym, whose charisma as Haley—a sweet Skittle masquerading as a Sour Patch Kid—is often undercut by her strained efforts to behave simultaneously cute, bratty, and tough.
At its candy-coated center, however, Bendinger’s directorial debut is just another hypocritical tween-targeted drama in the Bend It Like Beckham mold, one that strives to celebrate feminist self-actualization while also delivering objectifying close-ups of teenage girls’ asses and washboard abs. And despite its climax’s attempts to denigrate athletic/artistic criticism by portraying gymnastics judges as fascists who are secretly jealous of those they’re judging (a jab often leveled against those in the film reviewing profession), I won’t be swayed from supplying my own final Stick It verdict: starts off shaky, mildly efficient through its mid-section, but fails to nail its landing.