`Sugar' could have been so sweet

Review: `Sugar & Spice' is a great idea for a movie, but the execution is pretty shallow.

January 29, 2001|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN FILM CRITIC

Bank-robbing cheerleaders - now there's a can't-miss concept.

Unfortunately, "Sugar & Spice" does miss, in spite of a central conceit just begging to be parodied, a handful of good one-liners, some wickedly funny visuals and a group of young actresses from whom you'd expect better. Too bad the film never moves beyond the obvious jokes, or even riffs on those with any appreciable verve.

The A-squad cheerleaders at Lincoln High are not only a bunch of high-kicking powerhouses, but they're also inseparable friends, girls who would do just about anything for one another. There's team captain Diane (Marley Shelton), who never met a problem a little pep-talk couldn't solve; trash-talking Kansas (Mena Suvari), who seems destined to join her mother in the state pen; born-again Hannah (Rachel Blanchard); Harvard-bound Lucy (Sara Marsh); and man-hungry Cleo (Melissa George), who has an unhealthy obsession with Conan O'Brien.

Things are going along just cheeringly fine until Diane gets a look at transfer student (accent on the stud) Jack Bartlett (James Marsden), who's arrived at Lincoln just in time to quarterback the football team. But scoring points on the field isn't all Jack does; it isn't long before he and Diane are in a family way.

Which presents all manner of problems for all concerned. Not that Jack and Diane (does John Mellencamp get royalties from this movie?) are reluctant parents-to-be. Diane is too wide-eyed to worry about much of anything, while Jack is too much of a lunkhead to see this as anything but super-cool, even if Diane's parents do kick them out of the house and the only job he can hold is clerk at the local video store.

Of course, all the gee-whiz enthusiasm in the world isn't going to pay the bills, a reality that gradually becomes clear to Diane. What to do? Why not persuade her girlfriends to help her rob a bank? As she points out, "They do this in movies all the time."

So the girls rent a bunch of bank-robber movies - everything from "Reservoir Dogs" to "The Apple Dumpling Gang" - and devise their plan: wearing doll masks and using machine guns held together with scotch tape, they'll steal all the money they need and live happily ever after.

"Sugar & Spice" has great fun watching the girls prepare for the big heist, with help from a dour Sean Young as Kansas' jailhouse mom. Their total non-grasp of reality is a ditzy delight, their blithe self-assurance the stuff of classic parody.

But that's as close to classic as the film gets. The actresses, twentysomethings who are past the point they can convincingly play high-schoolers, rarely seem to connect with the material. And first-time director Francine McDougall keeps mining the same comedic veins - cheerleaders sure can act silly, football players sure can act dumb, high school sure can be weird - without ever scratching below the surface.

"Sugar & Spice" is one of those films where the idea is funnier than the execution. This is the sort of film the Farrelly brothers could do wonders with. Imagine "There's Something About Mary" with pompons, and you get an idea what this movie could have been.

`Sugar & Spice'

Starring Marley Shelton, James Marsden, Mena Suvari

Directed by Francine McDougall

Released by New Line Cinema

Running time 93 minutes

Rated PG-13 (language, sex-related humor and some thematic elements)

Sun score: **

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