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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Review
Sugar & Spice (2001)
2 Stars

Directed by Francine McDougall
Cast: Marley Shelton, Mena Suvari, Rachel Blanchard, Marla Sokoloff, Melissa George, Sarah Marsh, James Marsden, Alexandra Holden, Sean Young, W. Earl Brown.
2001 – 80 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for profanity and sexual situations).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, January 23, 2001.

Diane Weston (Marley Shelton) is the famed head chearleader of the "A" squad at Lincoln High School. Her best friends and co-cheerleaders are the tough-as-nails Kansas (Mena Suvari), the religious-nut Hannah (Rachel Blanchard), the Conan O'Brien-obsessed Cleo (Melissa Georgia), and the book-smart Lucy (Sara Marsh). From the second Diane literally knocks sweet football jock Jack Bartlett (James Marsden) down while doing backflips at a school pep rally, they falls instantly in love. Before long, Diane is pregnant, and realizing their love for each other, she and Jack decide to get married. With her at home with a bun in the oven, and Jack working minimum-wage at a video store, Diane forms a plan for her and the girls to learn from the mistakes of movie character thieves, so that they can successfully rob a bank and get the amount of cash each of them needs for the future.

This is the setup of "Sugar & Spice," a highly satirical jab at cheerleaders, bank robberies, and teenage pregnancy from director Francine McDougall and screenwriter Mandy Nelson. What begins as an inanely unfunny "stupid teen movie" eventually finds its footing at the 20-minute mark to become a surprisingly clever and knowing comedy that curiously pays tribute to many popular gangster/thief movies, including "Reservoir Dogs," "Heat," "Dog Day Afternoon," and "Point Break." The writing miraculously becomes fresh and appropriately zany, and the film runs at a fast pace, never growing outwardly tedious for a minute (save for the whole terrible opening section).

Moving at the trajectory it was remaining successfully on, "Sugar & Spice" might have been an early moviegoing surprise for 2001. Unfortunately, just as the film has gained maximum momentum, it ends abruptly in midstream, never wrapping up its characters or the story in any satisfying manner. At just 80 minutes (including end credits), the picture feels rushed and rather pointless--a nice enough diversion, but one that fails to go that extra mile to become anything other than such.

The characters, in staying with the satire of the piece, which often reminds one of 1999's far superior "Election" and "Drop Dead Gorgeous," fit neatly into the package and are entertaining individuals, except for one problem: they are never developed outside of one or two personal traits. Because of this, their potentially bright, inspired performances are more or less wasted. Marley Shelton (1999's "The Bachelor") appears in almost every scene as the put-upon protagonist, Diane, but she remains at arm's length with the viewer, never being allowed to break out from a broad caricature. The same goes for the rest of the girls, with rising star Mena Suvari (1999's "American Beauty") sorely wasted as the edgy Kansas. Marla Sokoloff (2000's "Whatever It Takes") does offer up some fun, however, as the spiteful Lisa, a member of the "B" squad cheerleading team who dispises the "A" squad and, coincidentally, witnesses the bank robbery and recognizes the girls (despite being equipped with Betty doll masks). Meanwhile, James Marsden (2000's "X-Men") has nothing to do but look and act like a lovable, if immature, doofus.

For the majority of its too-brief running time, "Sugar & Spice" runs so close to the line of delightfully savage lampooning that it is all the more disappointing when the movie never follows through with its ambitious nature. Writer Mandy Nelson surely knows how to write smart-allecky, at time even ingenious, dialogue, but she has failed in exposing any sort of emotional truths about its characters or the situations. Since that is the key to a good satire--playfully mocking people and valid societal issues while offering up a bit of ironic realism--"Sugar & Spice" ultimately misses the boat by a millimeter.

©2001 by Dustin Putman

Dustin Putman