Not so nice

Sugar & Spice

They’re cute, and they’re felonious. But do they have Spartan spirit?

They’re cute, and they’re felonious. But do they have Spartan spirit?

Rated 2.0

Gun-wielding cheerleaders inhabit what amounts to half a movie in Sugar & Spice, a dark comedy that starts off as a Heathers for the new millennium and proceeds to sputter out like the enthusiasm of the home team’s cheer squad during a 50-0 rout. At first, this film is so beautifully nasty that it feels like it can do no wrong. Alas, studio heads needed their PG-13 rating, so the pic becomes scared of itself. Just as a squad of close-knit cheerleaders begins robbing banks, the movie comes to a dead halt, clutches its chest and keels over.

It’s a big disappointment, because much of this film shows major promise. A relationship between high school football captain Jack (James Marsden) and cheerleader captain Diane (Marley Shelton) is not only funny because of the John Cougar song reference, but because these two actors do a wonderful job of displaying otherworldly optimism in the face of life’s many pressures.

After coming together at a pep rally, the two find themselves on the road to Babyland by the time of the school prom. While parents have seizures upon receipt of the natal news, Jack and Diane just keep smiling, gleefully renting out a nightmarish dive apartment, holding down minimum-wage jobs and anxiously awaiting the birth of baby.

Diane has a close relationship with her cheerleader pals (American Beauty‘s Mena Suvari is amongst them as the rebel, Kansas). She hatches a plan to rob a bank for diaper money, and the girls agree to become criminals. Then the film begins to lose momentum.

Why does director Francine McDougall wimp out with this film? Why is some of the dialogue dubbed over with words like “friggin,” creating the sensation that we are watching a film that’s been edited for television? Something tells me that this movie set out to be one nasty mother and settled for being slightly bitchy in the face of an R rating.

Look, it’s not that I don’t like decent films with high moral fiber. It’s just that this movie screams to be perversely nasty, and it appears it wanted to be. Just knowing that some studio head or marketing genius messed with the film’s final cut is annoying. Simply put, this is an instance where the creative artists behind this film should’ve been allowed to produce their vision. Maybe there have been some times where studio heads have messed with a film for the better, but this time isn’t one of them.

Some good gags almost salvage the movie. I especially liked a subplot with one of the cheerleaders endearingly referred to as “The Stalker,” a teen who has an unhealthy attraction to Conan O’Brien. Marla Sokoloff gets laughs as the bitter head of the cheerleader “B” squad, a girl harping on the “A” squad’s lack of adherence to national cheerleader regulations, while suffering from an ugly case of green toe fungus. In a small role, Sean Young is perfectly cast as Suvari’s convict mother doing time for shooting her adulterous husband while delivering a child.

The film creates the sense that it is building up to something, one big rip on high school hypocrites and pop culture. When the girls sport doll masks—after several viewings of the Keanu Reeves classic Point Break—and knock over a supermarket bank branch, it’s a funny scene that feels like it’s the beginning of something, not the climax.

When the film ended in an underwhelming fashion a few minutes after the heist, I felt gypped. This would’ve been a better experience if I had walked out after the robbery and dreamt up my own little perfect ending for Sugar & Spice, because the one it possesses sucks pompoms.