Sugar & Spice Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 2001

Marley Shelton, Melissa George, Mena Suvari, Sara Marsh, Rachel Blanchard, and Alexandra Holden

I guess it was inevitable. With Hollywood's growing interest in the 'sport' of cheerleading, somebody would come up with the bright idea of crossing this satirical sub-genre with the heist flick. Thus, "Sugar & Spice" was born, the last cinematic offering to the 'tween demographic, the bastard child of "Bring It On" and "Set It Off". And while there is certainly plenty of comic gold to be mined from the pairing of such clashing genres, "Sugar & Spice" is sweet and sour in execution-- while it may have some memorable moments, they are far outweighed by the ones that fall flat.

Similar to "The Usual Suspects", "Sugar & Spice" opens up in a police station with high schooler Lisa Janusch (Marla Sokoloff of "Whatever It Takes") being questioned by detectives about her eye-witness account of a recent bank robbery. Told in flashback, we learn that Lisa has been stuck on Lincoln High's 'B' cheerleading squad for the past few years, and there is much jealous rivalry between her and the 'A' squad, who refuse to allow her into their exclusive club.

Mena Suvari

Head of the 'A' squad is Diane Weston (Marley Shelton of "Pleasantville"), and her comely cohorts run the gamut on eccentricity. The rebellious and short-tempered Kansas Hill (Mena Suvari of "American Pie") lives with grandparents, because her mother (an unrecognizable Sean Young of "Blade Runner" fame) is serving a life sentence for shooting her father. Hannah Wold (Rachel Blanchard of "Road Trip") is the uptight and religious one, while Lucy Whitman (Sara Marsh) is the brains of the operation, who aspires to study at Harvard. Finally, there's the mentally-unbalanced stalker of the group, Cleo Miller (Melissa George of "Dark City"), who has an unhealthy obsession with talk show host Conan O'Brien.

The first hint of trouble begins when Jack Bartlett (James Marsden of "X-Men") transfers into Lincoln High, and becomes the school's new quarterback. Not surprisingly, love blossoms between Jack and Diane, and before you know it, the teen couple announces their plans to get married-- after the baby is born. Unfortunately, their parents don't take the news well, and they quickly find themselves trying to eke out a living on their own, with few financial resources to draw upon.

Marley Shelton and James Marsden

It is then, while watching "Point Break", that Diane gets an idea of how to remedy her financial distress: rob a bank! The rest of 'A' squad quickly jumps on to the idea, since there will be more than enough proceeds from the robbery to kick-start their own dreams too. But what do they know about robbing banks? Like all kids of the post-Pulp generation, they get their underworld schooling by watching movies about bank robberies, such as "Reservoir Dogs", "Heat", "Dog Day Afternoon", and even "The Apple Dumpling Gang" (Hannah's strict parents only allow her to watch G-rated flicks). Of course, like all bank robberies in the movies, something is bound to go wrong...

"Sugar & Spice" has the potential to be a great satire, of both the cheerleading phenomena and the heist-gone-awry movie, but the script isn't up to the task. There certainly are some memorable moments, such as the sideline antics of the school's mascot (a guy in an outfit with an oversized head of Abraham Lincoln) and the sight of the would-be bank robbers in 'Betty' outfits (and one 'Tricky Dicky') doing a slo-mo saunter into the bank, but overall, the humor is stale and strained. The snappy one-liners and subversive humor of the much-better "Bring It On" is conspicuously absent, and many of the gags, particularly Cleo's obsession with Conan O'Brien or Jack's dim-wittedness, are tired retreads of jokes you've probably heard before in better movies. In addition, the bank robbery scene itself, probably the highlight of the entire film, runs far too short. Scribe Lona Williams could have probably gotten much more mileage out of the 'cheerleaders as bank robbers' premise had the focus been on the bank robbery itself and their wildly-inappropriate responses to unexpected complications-- something like "Cheering Zoe" or "Game Day Afternoon".

Reservoir Broads

For a movie with plenty of misfires, the cast could be considered adequate. The most memorable performance would belong to Marla Sokoloff, whose derisive Janeane Garofolo-take as the film's narrator is dead-on to what the tone of the film should be. Mena Suvari, an up-and-coming star, rehashes her 'bad girl' routine from "American Beauty", though without the depth of character. Marley Shelton, who is a dead-ringer for Heather Graham ("Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me"), is likable in her role, though a bit bland. As for the rest, they do their best with their stock characters, though there's nothing worth writing home about.

"Sugar & Spice" certainly has some interesting ideas up its sleeve, mixing up cheerleaders and bank robbery. Unfortunately, saddled with humor that is routine and lifeless, this take on 'when cheerleaders go bad' winds up robbing the audience instead. Skip this movie, and instead, put your money towards the "Bring It On" DVD being released next month.

Images courtesy of New Line Cinema. All rights reserved.

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