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Sugar & Spice; Review by Robin Franson Pruter

sugar and spiceOriginally released 26 Jan 2001
Written by Mandy Nelson (pseudonym for Lona Williams)
Directed by Francine McDougall

Starring Marley Shelton, Mena Suvari, Marla Sokoloff, and James Marsden

My rating: ★★ stars

Dated and crude humor drag down movie about cheerleaders robbing a bank.

When I first saw Sugar & Spice in the theater, I enjoyed it. I remember laughing uproariously at the absurd humor. To write this review, I watched it again. As I hadn’t seen the movie in over ten years, I expected to find the jokes fresh. However, I was unpleasantly surprised to find it lacking in laughs. I couldn’t figure out what jokes I had enjoyed when I first saw it.

The plot of the movie is ludicrous. It tells the story of cheerleading captain Diane (Marley Shelton), who gets pregnant and convinces the other squad members help her rob a bank to support her family. The other squad members each need money to fulfill dreams of their own—for example, brainy Lucy (Sara Marsh) wants to go to Harvard and street smart Kansas (Mena Suvari) wants to hire a lawyer to get her mother (Sean Young) out of prison—so they agree to go along with Diane’s scheme.

Watching this movie means committing to suspending your disbelief about the feasibility of their plot. You don’t watch a movie about cheerleaders robbing a bank for its gritty realism.

What you do hope for is that the humor will be clever. Perhaps the problem with my most recent viewing was that I remembered all of the wittiest jokes, so they lost the element of surprise that many punchlines rely on. What I didn’t remember were the jokes that fell flat or targeted the lowest common denominator. The movie had far too many flatulence jokes. (I consider one to be too many flatulence jokes, so “far too many” is three.)

I was also struck by how mean-spirited the movie was. The story is presented in flashback with voice-over narration by rival cheerleader Lisa (Marla Sokoloff), a character continuously unpleasant and surly. Furthermore, the movie contains many slurs (particularly the r-word and the fa-word) that stick out as cringe-worthy today.

The movie is dated in its use of pop culture references throughout. Many of these references have gone stale. It’s hard to laugh when you’re busy googling what the joke was about. Even ones that are still relevant may not be in a few years. In this respect, the movie stands as an example to writers not to use such references if they want their movie to be timelessly funny.

But the movie isn’t all bad. Some of the jokes are clever. More importantly, I appreciated that the movie is about a group of girls who support each other instead of tearing each other down. Yes, as they get stressed out over the upcoming job, they fight occasionally, but they almost always champion one another.

Like many films that came out around the turn of the century, such as Bring It On and The Princess Diaries, it avoids having the lives of the girls revolve around boys. While Diane does get pregnant, her boyfriend Jack (James Marsden) plays a minor role in the plot. The movie focuses on the relationship between the girls.

While the independent, resourceful, and sporadically clever heroines rescue Sugar & Spice from being a complete waste of time, the sometimes dated, unfunny, and crude humor and the nastiness of the narration diminish the quality of the movie.

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