Sugar & Spice
The latest in a surprisingly successful string of teen satires, this clever dark comedy mocks the perky pom-pom world of cheerleaders.
Diane (Marley Shelton) is the perfect, popular captain of the Lincoln High School cheerleading squad. As high school myth demands, the captain of the football team Jack (James Marsden) falls for her and the two become instantly inseparable. Unfortunately, they get too close for comfort and Diane becomes pregnant. Jack stays by her side, but their families desert them, so they're forced to take on after-school jobs to earn money for the baby. When minimum wage doesn't work well enough, Diane's supportive A-squad cheerleaders (Mena Suvari, Rachel Blanchard, Melissa George and Sara Marsh) come up with a bank-robbing scheme to help the couple make ends meet. Luckily, one of the cheerleaders has a mother in jail (Sean Young) who teaches the girls tricks of the robbery trade which lead to doll masks, pregnant-cheerleader costumes and choreography for their heists. The story is narrated by catty, B-squad cheerleader Lisa (Marla Sokoloff), who adds a campy, sarcastic tone that makes the action even more hilarious.
While their cheerleader roles require little depth, Shelton is a standout as a hopelessly optimistic teen who displays vulnerability beneath her polished image. Suvari's shallow performance is more reminiscent of her role in "American Pie" than "American Beauty" and Sokoloff displays more attitude than actual acting ability. Fortunately, Marsden wins the audience over with his aw-shucks innocence and sweet nature. Sean Young also shines in a not-so-glamorous cameo as the jailed lesbian mother of Suvari. Since appearing peppy and perky doesn't take too much talent, we don't have to wonder about any Oscar nods for this bunch.
Director Francine MacDougall's fast-paced, glossy look at the seemingly perfect world of popularity stays surprisingly upbeat despite its predominantly dark humor. Expect plenty of outrageous antics (the way Diane meets Jack by accidentally somersaulting into his face) and sight gags (a memorable bonding scene in the bathroom stalls) that seemingly replace any trace of actual plot. Despite the fizzy, fuzzy material, MacDougall's slick direction saves the story by revealing a darker side that keeps the audience laughing with the characters as well as at them.
As long as you expect little more than the feisty fun of "Clueless" mixed with the scheming of "Cruel Intentions" and the pep of "Bring It On," you're bound to have a campy, crazy good time at the movies.