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Sugar & Spice: DVD Review
Posted by O.R. Polk, Jr. on May 12, 2002, 01:10

SUGAR & SPICE (2001)

Directed by Francine McDougall

Written by Mandy Nelson

Starring Marley Shelton, Marla Sokoloff, Melissa George, Mena Suvari, Rachel Blanchard, James Marsden, Sara Marsh and Alexandra Holden

Released by New Line Home Video

Rated PG-13, 85 min.

Everyone out there has that one thing they indulge in that their peers don’t necessarily favor nor find entertaining. Because we do find amusement in these events and while not always in our friends’ company, such things come to be known as “guilty pleasures”. But is it really a guilty pleasure if you feel only pleasure, not guilt whilst engaging in it? Many people consider watching wrestling such an occurrence. I don’t. I’ll gladly admit I watch wrestling and (sometimes, not lately) thoroughly enjoy it, regardless of whose company I’m in. But there is a stigma attached to professional wrestling; that only those of lesser intelligence or somehow on the lower rungs of America’s social class ladder can enjoy it. The truth is, there is a sect of wrestling fans (the self-proclaimed “smarts”) that are infinitely more intelligent than those who only see the sports’ surface and deem it a guilt-worthy vice.

So why should one be ashamed of his “guilty pleasure” and fear being ridiculed by those who deem it such when more often than not, those doing the ridiculing are the ones who are misinformed? And dare I say it, the ones who actually possess the inferior intellect? Maybe they are the ones who aren’t “smart” and just don’t “get it”.

Sugar & Spice (originally titled Sugar & Spice & Semi-Automatics) is one such felicity for yours truly. S&S was released theatrically on January 26, 2001 and to my dismay, received mostly bad reviews. I scoured the ‘net for someone who might have at least one positive comment on it and I’m proud to say that the movie reviewer whom I admire most provided the quote you are about to read. In fact, it wasn’t even through my computer that I found it, but rather on my own bookshelf in his Movie Yearbook 2002:

“Sugar & Spice puts your average cheerleader movie to shame…With its shameless pop culture references [and] wicked satire, it’s more proof that not all movie teenagers have to be dumb. (All right, these cheerleaders are dumb – but in a smart movie.)” – Roger Ebert, Chicago-Sun Times

I tend to agree Mr. Ebert (although for the life of me, I can’t figure out why New Line, after receiving a glowing review like that opted to use the blurb “SAUCY!” on the cover of the DVD from that very same review). S&S was released at a time when the movie going audience was expecting any movie about teens to be more along the lines of American Pie rather than Election S&S delivers the latter, with a twist of camp reminiscent of Jawbreaker and the black comedy of But I’m A Cheerleader. It certainly shares nothing in common with Bring It On, which could be considered a box office success when compared to Sugar & Spice. Whereas Bring It On was all about cheerleading and the competition side of it, S&S merely uses cheerleading as the common activity that happens to bring all of the girls together in their unique friendship.

The Movie:

The girls of S&S are Diane Weston (Marley Shelton of Never Been Kissed and Pleasantville), the eternally optimistic head of the squad, Kansas Hill (Mena Suvari of American Beauty), the “original bad seed”, Hannah Wald (Rachel Blanchard of TV’s “Clueless”), the church-going virgin, Lucy Whitman (Sara Marsh), the Harvard-bound geek extraordinaire and “walking left-brain” and Cleo Miller (Melissa George of The Limey and Dark City), who has an unhealthy obsession with Late Night host Conan O’Brien.

When the film opens the girls are unfortunately in a police lineup, but obviously oblivious to what sort of trouble they may be in (or just too ditzy to really care) because they strike a perfectly choreographed group pose for a police photograph. We then make our way to an interrogation room, where the police are listening to the testimony of fellow student and B-squad cheerleader, Lisa Janusch (Marla Sokoloff of TV’s “The Practice” and Dude, Where’s My Car?). Lisa claims to have all the information that the authorities need to put these wayward cheerleaders behind bars, thus ensuring her own spot on her high school’s A cheerleading squad. Lisa got a lot of work done over the summer and she’s not going to let it go to waste captaining the B-squad while criminals take what’s rightfully hers. She starts from the beginning:

Like John Cougar Mellencamp’s little ditty, this is a story about Jack and Diane. And just like the song, Jacky’s gonna be a football star. Jack Bartlett (James Marsden of X-Men, Gossip and Disturbing Behavior) is a new arrival at Lincoln High School and soon becomes the star quarterback and captain of their football team. He’s got the “new guy” mystique, the good looks and everyone wants him. “It was like he was a bar of chocolate and the whole school was on the rag,” says Lisa, who has quite the crush on Jack herself. During his speech for prom king even the lunch ladies scream, “We love you, Jack!” The clueless jock Jack has got senatorial aspirations as well and we learn that he is incapable of telling a lie. (Well, he can forget being a Senator right there.)

During his bid for prom king he also announces his intentions to take head cheerleader, Diane Weston to the prom. Diane accepts and they begin a romance that sees Diane wind up pregnant. The two are disowned by their parents and become the “two American kids doing the best they can” that Mellencamp sang about. Jack can’t hold a job due to his inability to lie (ending up as a video store clerk finally but only because the other clerks worship his day-to-day exploits) and the normally optimistic Diane spirals further and further into doubt about their unborn child’s future while she works at a supermarket bank branch.

One day while watching Point Break with her fellow A-squaders, Diane has an epiphany: “The Beatles were wrong. Love isn’t all you need. Love won’t pay the rent. Love won’t buy my baby diapers. And love sure as hell won’t buy me my new Dolce & Gabana jeans when I lose my baby weight!” She decides money is all she needs to make her dreams come true and to keep her little family-to-be’s head above water. “If the OJ trial taught us anything, it taught us that in America you can cut somebody’s head off and still be found innocent as long as you have enough money.” Diane knows her bank like the back of her “puffy little hand” and it would be no problem to rob it if she had the right plan. The other cheerleaders go “hands in” with Diane after a little convincing and agree to rob the bank with her. But they have to keep it a secret from Jack; he can’t tell a lie. And since real cops aren’t half as smart as Keanu, they decide that they’ll watch movies and learn from the mistakes of those criminals who do get caught to plan their heist.

After watching Reservoir Dogs, Heat, Dog Day Afternoon and The Apple Dumpling Gang (Hannah’s only allowed G-rated movies) and securing guns on the advice of Kansas’ incarcerated mother (Sean Young of Blade Runner), the girls set about their plan. Unfortunately for them, when the robbery takes place the envioius eagle-eye of Lisa spies their familiar cheerleading athletics and turns them in.

Does the jealous Lisa have enough information to put her fellow cheerleaders in prison? Will she use it to become captain of the A-squad and steal Jack away from Diane?

The DVD:

Sugar and Spice has the option of choosing from either the 1:33.1 full frame version or the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, as per usual for most DVDs nowadays. The main menu is set up like a board game and New Line actually did a good job with all of the animations as the game pieces move about the board when an option is chosen. The cast & crew bios are especially entertaining and are probably more involved than the crew bios I’ve seen on any other DVD. They give info on the actual actress and a separate profile for that actress’ character in the movie. The DVD also includes the theatrical trailer and four deleted scenes; two of which are just extended or alternate takes and two that simply aren’t all that funny. In short, the DVD itself is really lacking on the supplements side. It seems that most movies I like are lacking in this area. No one really “gets” them, so they often get bare bones releases.


A few paragraphs can’t do the humor of this movie justice. I’d be lying if I said I was expecting what I got from this movie. I was expecting something completely brainless; one of those movies that’s so bad it’s funny. It’s the exact opposite. I was pleasantly surprised. Watch this movie with your girlfriend, in fact. I guarantee she’ll enjoy it more than you. This movie was directed by a woman, written by a woman, produced by a woman and about young women, so the estrogen was bound to rub off on the final print. And it does. In a good way. Sugar & Spice is one of those rare movies that is actually entertaining, funny and quote-worthy from beginning to end. It’s the perfect movie to pop in when you’re sitting around with an hour or so to kill but still want to be entertained and watch more than a couple of wrestling matches.

Each girl’s performance is amusing and memorable and it doesn’t hurt that all of them are extremely easy on the eyes. S&S is short but that means it has no time to drag. I think some of this brevity is due to the fact that the MPAA deemed entire chunks of this movie offensive and ordered that they be cut because of the then-recent Columbine tragedy. I wonder what was left on the editing room floor because it’s certainly not on the DVD, despite the packaging saying “Extended Version Not Seen In Theaters”. It would have only enhanced a fun little movie that was undercut by inferior competition (Bring it On) at the box office and an overly-PC ratings system. I wish New Line had gone the full monty and given us a Platinum Series edition, but I understand that the demand just wasn’t there. A shame, if you ask me. I’ll gladly double-up should they ever release a Special Edition. (hint, hint)

Recommended. Highly recommended for those who like and get biting satire and quirky little black comedies.

O.R. Polk, Jr.
Cynics Rule

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