'At the Top of the Pyramid': Film Review

At the Top of the Pyramid Still - H 2015

At the Top of the Pyramid Still - H 2015

Routine in more ways than one

A young woman attempts to overcome her inner demons in this teen-oriented, cheerleading-themed pic.

Do kids still say "whack" anymore?

That's one of the random thoughts prompted by the new teen cheerleading drama described in its promotional materials as "Bring It On meets Friday Night Lights." But while that summary might have served as an effective pitch, At the Top of the Pyramid is a nondescript affair mainly notable for the presence of such familiar faces as Dean Cain and Steve Guttenberg in thankless roles. Receiving a limited theatrical release in several cities, Lawrence Jordan's film might attract some undiscerning teens on VOD.

The film concentrates less on the glitzy aspects of the sport — although there are plenty of scenes featuring nubile, scantily clad young women performing energetic routines — than exploring the troubled inner life of central character Jamie (Elle McLemore) who's still traumatized by an incident in which she was either pushed or fell off of the titular gymnastic formation. After having relocated as a result of the ensuing humiliation, she's forced to move back to the scene of the crime after the death of her father (Cain, seen in gauzily photographed flashbacks). Cue the expected drama featuring mean girls, a flirtation with a hunky classmate, new and old friendships and the preparations for, what else, another cheerleading competition.

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Neglecting nary a single cliche in its dialogue — the coach solemnly intones, "Once a cheerleader, always a cheerleader," and an instructor breaks up a catfight by announcing "If we're going to have it out, we're having it out on the dance floor" — the film at least attempts to explore teen issues with a certain level of sensitivity, such as when a male college student refuses to have sex with his highly willing girlfriend because she's still in high school.

It also earns points for its ethnically diverse cast, hip hop-flavored soundtrack and such moments as when Jamie sexily dances to a reggaeton song with a young Hispanic gardener.  

But those are outweighed by such cringe-worthy scenes as Guttenberg's smarmy principal meeting with the cheerleading coach over glasses of champagne in the school auditorium, or the spontaneous dance number in a coffee shop that would have seemed over-the-top in an episode of Happy Days.

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McLemore, who would go on to exploit her athletic skills in the Broadway musical version of Bring It On, is engaging as the angst-ridden Jamie, and the youthful supporting cast play their stereotypical roles with admirable enthusiasm. But, to use cheerleading parlance, At the Top of the Pyramid doesn't manage to attack the crowd.

Production: Slamgate Productions, Mozell Entertainment Group
Cast: Elle McLemore, Jessica Luza, Najla Bashirah, Michael Peterson, Isaac J. Sullivan, Miguel Jarquin-Moreland, Patrick James Lynch, Dean Cain, Steve Guttenberg
Director: Lawrence Jordan
Screenwriter: Richard Willis Jr.
Producer: Karen T. Bolt
Executive producer: Mark A. Peterson
Director of photography: Philip Alan Walters
Editor: Josh Muscatine
Composers: Noriko Olling-Wright, Chay Alexander Wright
Casting: Carlyn Davis, Dean E. Fronk, Donald Paul Pemrick

Not rated, 88 minutes