Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:30 - Released 1/26/01

One would think that the idea of "cheerleaders gone bad" would have unlimited appeal to an over-the hill, has-been, married-with-children kind of guy like me. But Francine McDougall's Sugar & Spice, with all its teenage flesh, bouncing cleavage, and panty-clad slumber parties, turned me off. To the max. And even though one year ago, Kevin Spacey (who is very close to my age) was inspired to an Oscar-winningly lustful performance by the wicked wiles of pom-pom girl Mena Suvari in American Beauty, here she is just another one of the dippy chicks spouting A-Squad cheerbabble while we in the audience struggle to make it through the sheer stupidity (not to mention moral bankruptcy) of Mandy Nelson's willfully airheaded script. A few months ago, Peyton Reed's similarly-themed Bring It On surprised us with its ability to be more than its silly trailer suggested; Sugar & Spice, whose preview seems to imply a kind of edgy sarcasm, only rarely succeeds at that.

You know you're in a teenage movie when the characters are "introduced," one by one, by means of a voiceover from one of the cast. Here, we meet the five members of Lincoln High School's A-Squad through disgruntled B-Squad member Lisa (Marla Sokoloff, Whatever It Takes), whose desire to be a part of the main group is surpassed only by her intense hatred for them. First there's Diane (Marley Shelton), the ever-perky, ever-optimistic team captain, who is in love with star quarterback Jack (James Marsden); so much so, in fact, that she is expecting his child. The other four are badass delinquent Kansas (Suvari), virginal Christian nitwit Hannah (Rachel Blanchard), geek genius and OCD sufferer Lucy (Sara Marsh), and fanatic Conan O'Brien devotee Cleo (Melissa George). Despite the vast disparities in their obviously contrived character traits, these five girls spend so much time together they experience the harem syndrome. Later they are joined by Fern (Alexandra Holden), whose father supplies the guns.

To make a long and silly story short, the girls decide to rob the supermarket bank branch where Diane works in order to pay for her child's...well, life, I guess. They watch famous bank robbery movies "to learn from the characters' mistakes," buy matching Betty doll masks, and plan their caper down to the last detail. Although they seem to have planned the perfect crime, one particularly savvy eyewitness seems to have the goods on them.

Although Nelson's debut script has a few admittedly clever elements, like Jack lovingly measuring Diane's growing belly every month while she plots the crime of the century behind his back, it's mostly first-class fluff. The mask bit is obviously director McDougall's favorite part, as is evidenced by her tendency to linger on the rubbery faces of the five "Bettys" (and one Nixon). But what seemed like a biting black comedy in the trailer turns out to be just another dumb cheerleader flick.

Copyright 2001 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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