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.