Torrance (Kirsten Dunst) awakes from a bad dream where she had an embarrassing incident while cheerleading, because cheerleading is what she does, she's a high school cheerleader and her San Diego team, the Toros, have won the national championships for many years in a row. That morning, she gets picked up by her boyfriend Aaron (Richard Hillman) in his car and they go on to school where it's an eventful day as there's a new boy in class, Cliff (Jesse Bradford) and the previous cheerleading captain leaves and elects Torrance in her place. Torrance sets to work putting her team through their paces, but there's an accident while performing one of the more complicated moves and the cheerleader in question gets sent to hospital with a broken leg. Now they need a replacement - but who can they get?
Written by Jessica Bendinger, Bring It On was one of those modern film musicals, with dancing, songs and big production numbers, that didn't present itself as a musical, preferring to head for the teen comedy angle instead. There is nothing startlingly original about it, but it does have a boundless energy and a willing cast who relish the snappy one liners and teen speak ("This is not a democracy, this is a cheerocracy!") as they fire insults at each other in the true American spirit of oneupmanship. One of its strongest elements is its star, Dunst, who plays it good hearted but naive, totally unaware that her boyfriend is cheating on her, or that there's something not quite right about the routines she is performing. She's matched by Eliza Dushku, as the new girl Missy who joins the team after one of those amusing audition scenes with plenty of inappropriate candidates.
It turns out that Missy is the sister of Cliff, who Torrance has taken an interest in but can't do anything about due to her loyalty to her boyfriend. Obviously they'll be together by the end, but it's the way we get there that concerns us here. Missy is a gymnast (or at least Dushku's stunt double is) and the cheerleading team is the closest the school has to a course she can further her interests with, but she's more rebellious and streetwise than the Toros, as is evinced when she sees their potentially winning routine for the first time. She rolls her eyes and walks out, with Torrance rushing after her full of indignation, demanding to know the reason for her reaction. Then the bombshell: the previous captain has ripped off their routine from the East Compton team and none of the Toros knew - disaster!
Missy takes Torrance to East Compton to prove what she says is true, and there's a confrontation between them and the Clovers, with their captain (Gabrielle Union) particularly aggressive and warning that the Toros will be shown up by the Clovers if they go through with their stolen routine. The Toros try it out at the next football match, where entertainingly nobody wants to see the hopeless football team but have gone along for the cheerleaders instead. Then the Clovers show up to show them up, and it's clear a new direction must be found. If there's a theme here about the appropriation of black culture by mainstream white culture, it's not overstressed, and everything stays frothy, despite the personal troubles suffered by Torrance (whose name sounds like "Toros" the way the actors pronounce it).
Things get complicated after a fresh routine is learnt, courtesy of an extremely serious dance teacher who is a hard taskmaster, and then they're ready for the qualifying rounds of the cheerleading championship. Meanwhile, Torrance's feelings for Cliff grow stronger and her straight ahead personality is conflicted - is she cursed as she believes? A mishap at the tournament hints that could be the case, but Torrance is endearingly undaunted, and when the Clovers find they don't have the money to compete in the finals she offers to secure the cash for them as an act of goodwill. However, cynicism has a habit of throwing good intentions back at you, as she realises, despite wanting a level playing field for the contest. One neat aspect is that you're genuinely not sure if the Toros will win or not, being as how Hollywood loves the underdog. Still the finale manages to satisfy, with excellent dancing and a general exuberance that leaves a true high. Music by Christophe Beck.