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Sugar & Spice

  sugar & spice
Bad girls in prison: A genre returns.

2001, New Line Cinema
All Rights Reserved

Diane Weston (Marley Shelton) is captain of her high school cheerleading team. Newly impregnated by her football star boyfriend Jack (James Marsden), Diane finds herself short on cash as she tries to find ways to support herself through school. With the help of her cheer squad pals Kansas (Mena Suvari), Hannah (Rachel Blanchard), Cleo (Melissa George), Lucy (Sara Whitman) and Fern (Alexandra Holden), Diane masterminds — with some inspiration from the 1991 looting-surfers film "Point Break" — a plan to hold up the local supermarket bank to pay her mounting bills. With team spirit on their side, the group manages to choreograph the robbery, find weaponry, and acquire a getaway van that is without brakes. Their only obstacle is Lisa (Marla Sokoloff), a spurned member of the B squad who is slowly figuring out what's going on.

"Sugar & Spice" (IMDb listing) is very conventional material. I mean, come on. Cheerleaders again? Coming off the heels of last summer's sleeper "Bring It On," "Spice" once again treads on well-worn ground with its twisted take on cheer fever, over-enthusiastic debutantes, and competition between squads. It's candy-coated and cheery, however "Sugar & Spice" is meant to be a comedy and it isn't funny. Written by Mandy Nelson, "Spice" positively revels in its limited imagination. Jokes about homosexual male members of the pep squad? Ha ha? Computer nerds who lust after the cheerleading squad? Cartoony religious zealots? It's all been done to death and better in last summer's "But I'm a Cheerleader" (which "Spice" apes in tone rather suspiciously). "Spice's" gags feel much too dated and worn to make you laugh. It's like recalling old "Saturday Night Live" sketches with your buddies — it makes you smile, but it's never as funny as when it was relevant.

"Sugar & Spice" had the potential to isolate itself from the pom-pom pack with its core narrative of the robbery, but like the Spice Girls themselves, the finished film is hyper and unfocused. I lost count after the eighth music montage — far too many for any 80-minute film. Even from a newbie director like "Spice's" Francine McDougall, this MTV storytelling is a pathetic way to skip around actual storytelling. McDougall also has trouble separating camp from comedy. I kept wondering whether we should be laughing at these characters, or with these characters. McDougall does have an eye for images, greatly helped by cinematographer Robert Brinkman who provides "Sugar & Spice" with a glossy sheen that the film doesn't earn. It's too well photographed for the lack of effort that went into the filmmaking.

Even without help from the director, "Spice" does have loads of young actresses and actors to rely on. Some are good (Marla Sokoloff) and some are embarrassing (James Marsden, who painfully overacts his way out of the film — literally). The star who emerges from "Spice" unscathed is Marley Shelton. She achieves the unthinkable with this script by managing to create somewhat of a character for herself. A clear-eyed beauty, Shelton steals the film away from the sizable cast. She emerges as the only thing to recommend in the muddled and compromised "Sugar & Spice."

Filmfodder Grade: D+

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