“‘Sugar & Spice’ Isn’t So Nice”
by Scott Mantz

“Sugar & Spice”
Marley Shelton, Mena Suvari
Directed by Francine McDougall

The cheerleaders are busted after trying to rah! rah! rob! a bank in “Sugar & Spice”

Ever since the Columbine High School tragedy, and thanks to films like “Natural Born Killers,” “Fight Club,” and “The Basketball Diaries,” Hollywood has been under fire for inspiring needless acts of violence. That being the case, the timing for “Sugar & Spice” couldn’t be any worse–and for a few reasons. For one thing, the film isn’t very good, and for another, it doesn’t even come close to matching the vibrancy and wit of last summer’s similarly-themed and good-natured “Bring It On.” In fact, by trying (and failing) to make a statement about various teen issues–such as fitting in, violence in schools, and teenage pregnancy–“Sugar & Spice” should turn in its pom-poms and be charged with an illegal dismount.

Diane (Marley Shelton), Kansas (Mena Suvari), Hannah (Rachel Blanchard), Cleo (Melissa George), and Lucy (Sara Marsh) are high school students who are so dedicated to their cheerleading squad that they wear their uniforms all the time. That’s a constant irritant to Lisa (Marla Sokoloff), a fellow cheerleader who’s shut out and stuck on the sidelines. Diane falls in love with Jack (James Marsden), the ditsy star quarterback, and when he knocks her up, they move in together. They quickly discover that living the American dream is a lot of hard work, so Diane devises a plan for her cheerleading squad to rah! rah! rob the local bank. Paybacks are a bitch, and being the bitch that she is, Lisa witnesses the crime and threatens to turn the girls in.

“Sugar & Spice” can best be described as “Bring It On” meets “Heat” (and speaking of which, that’s just one of the movies that the girls end up watching in order to get tips on how to rob the local bank–good to know, huh?). The problem is that, unlike with “Bring It On,” most of the jokes here fall flat. Also, the film tries to mix the dark humor of “Election” with the hip dialogue of “Clueless,” the trailer park mentality of “Drop Dead Gorgeous,” and the tasteless humor of just about every Farrelly brothers movie, but the lame script keeps it from all coming together.

As for the cast, “Sugar & Spice” marks the second time that Mena Suvari has had to don a cheerleading outfit (with the first being in “American Beauty”). While her role as the foul-mouthed Kansas takes a back seat to the squad, Marley Shelton steps to the fore. She’s sexy, dim-witted, and naive to a fault, but the material isn’t up to snuff for her to really run with the role. It’s a shame–she’s actually quite charming in the part. The same goes for James Marsden, who plays Shelton’s lovestruck boyfriend who seems to have gotten hit in the head by the tight end one too many times. He’s the “Jack” to Shelton’s “Diane” (like the song-get it?), and they have some surprisingly good chemistry together (in more ways than one).

Rounding out the cast of colorful cheerleaders are Melissa George, who plays a sexy bombshell with an inexplicable obsession for Conan O’Brien (talk about a missed opportunity), and Sara Marsh, an uber-geek who has unrealistic dreams of going Harvard. Rachel Blanchard spends more time preaching about her Christian values when she should be thinking about getting laid, while Marla Sokoloff plays the jilted cheerleader who threatens to bring the whole heist crashing to the ground. Also, keep an eye out for an almost unrecognizable Sean Young, who shows up late in the film with some not-too-motherly advice for Mena Suvari.

Let’s face it–it’s hard not to be amused by the camaraderie of these very different friends who, I must say, look quite nice jumping around in their mini-skirts. Still, the film touches on a number of issues and styles without going for the end zone on any of them. Considering how ineffective the final film is, this “Sugar & Spice” ends up being not so nice.