WUSA: The Promised Land

It's easy to see why the WUSA is so gung-ho about ''Bend It Like Beckham'': The league - promoting the film as if it were its own - is the promised land in Gurinder Chadha's delightful comedy of cultural manners, a British smash that wowed festival audiences at Sundance and Toronto and opens in America, finally, in mid-March.

Jess (Parminder Nagra) is a tricky forward who'd love nothing more than to play alongside her hero, David Beckham, but opposition from her family - Sikh Punjabis residing in West London - and remote opportunity cloud her path to soccer stardom.

Chadha (''Bhaji on the Beach,'' ''What's Cooking?''), who says her London upbringing was similar to Jess', specializes in culture-clash comedies, and she's dished up her finest work here. Jess' mother (Shaheen Khan) wishes her youngest was more like her sister, tart Pinky (Archie Panjabi), who is preparing for a traditional Indian wedding. ''Who'd want a girl who plays football all day but can't [cook] chapattis?'' she rails at her daughter.

Jess must sneak off to play for Hounslow Harriers, where Jules (Keira Knightly) - who shares Jess' dreams and conflict with her mother - and the coach (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) fuel her fire to play in America. The key could be impressing an American scout (representing Santa Clara University but looking nothing like Jerry Smith).

There's a montage of WUSA action, painting top players - Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Tiffeny Milbrett, Carla Overbeck, Siri Mullinix, and, of course, English star Kelly Smith - as heroines, and Hamm's poster and jersey figure prominently. Beckham, or a body double, makes brief appearances.

The soccer action, for the most part, doesn't embarrass. Most of it is shot tightly, with quick edits, masking Nagra's soccer inexperience - just eight weeks learning tricks from Futebol de Salao (futsal) coach Simon Clifford.

(''Bend It Like Beckham'' is rated PG-13, with some foul language and mild sexuality.)

by Soccer America Senior Editor Scott French

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