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Sugar & Spice

movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Sugar & Spice

Starring: James Marsden, Mena Suvari
Director: Francine McDougall
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 100 Minutes
Release Date: January 2001
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Marla Sokoloff, Alexandra Holden, Marley Shelton, Rachel Blanchard, Sara Marsh, Melissa George, Nate Maher, Sean Young

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
½ star out of 4

What happens when you take an R-rated black comedy about gun-toting, bank-robbing cheerleaders and edit it down to a PG-13? You get a tepid farce with only a few stray moments that reveal what was originally on the writer's fevered little mind. "Sugar & Spice" co-star Mena Suvani, the femme fatale cheerleader from ''American Beauty,'' told an interviewer, "It was really frustrating, because the movie we all signed on to do was very dark and very offensive, and while the finished movie is still that to a degree, it's completely different." Remembering who signs the paychecks, she quickly added, "but I totally understand there were two sides of it."

The film was titled "Sugar & Spice & Semiautomatics" until two incredibly twisted boys entered Columbine High School on April 20, 1999 and left a trail of terror and death. Suddenly, the concept of armed teen-agers didn't seem quite as amusing and the powers that be at New Line Cinema decided to make a few changes. Their qualms were understandable. At the time, the studio was facing a $33 million lawsuit (since dismissed) claiming that a student psycho in Kentucky shot eight fellow students as a result, at least in part, of seeing "The Basketball Diaries."

So how much was cut from "Sugar & Spice?" A great deal, apparently. Actor James Marsden ("X-Men") told the same interviewer, ''I saw the R-rated cut of the movie six months ago, and I just peed myself.'' After viewing the current PG-13 version, I can report with great assurance that, when the closing credits roll, there won't be a wet pair of shorts in the house.

The executives at New Line realized they had a dog on their hands. Days after receiving a pass to a sneak preview of the film, I was informed that the studio was un-inviting critics to the promotional screening. This was a first for me. Studios marketing lousy movies routinely try to dodge reviewers by scheduling screenings so close to the release date of a film that critics are unable to write about it before their deadlines (Example: the slasher flick, "Valentine," opens this Friday and is being screened Thursday night). Sometimes they will set up a promotional screening aimed at the target audience for a movie and simply not inform the press. When dealing with an utter disaster like "54" or "The Avengers," they don't prescreen the production at all, hoping for a lucrative opening weekend before disastrous word of mouth sets in. But this is the only time I've ever been told, "Well, we're still going to have a sneak preview, but you can't come."

At this point, you may be wondering why, in light of the Columbine tragedy, the studio chose to continue with the neutered production. Who knows? Why did Jay Leno get the "Tonight Show" instead of David Letterman? Why was a man as talented as John Goodman stuck in a show as dreadful as "Normal, Ohio?" Why did NBC cancel "NewsRadio" while renewing "Suddenly Susan" for an additional season? Why is Carrot Top still working? There are certain questions concerning the entertainment industry that will remain mysteries forever.

Oddly enough, the PG-13 version of "Sugar & Spice" isn't entirely horrible. It's just… there. The cheerleaders, out to raise money for a pregnant squad member, still use guns to rob a bank, but the weapons are now fakes made of spare gun parts. A few shocking lines from the original script remain (one of the girls casually announces, "those pictures of Christ, all sweaty and bare-chested on the cross, always make me hot.") but in their new context they seem jarringly out of place.

I smiled twice over the course of the flick's 90 minutes; once during an inspirational recitation of the lyrics from Madonna's "Papa Don't Preach," and once when James Marsden's chronically exuberant character pauses in the snack aisle of a grocery store and tells his beloved, "If we have a girl, we should dress her like Little Debbie!" There, I just saved you the cost of a ticket.

If you'd like to see a real black comedy about wayward youth, rent "The Opposite of Sex" (I suspect the caustic voice-over narrative in "Sugar & Spice" was "inspired" by the film). If you want a wicked satire set in a high school, try "Election." If you're craving a perky cheerleader comedy, check out "Bring It On," which at least has better dance routines. And if you're still interested in shelling out good money for "Sugar & Spice," then reread this review, you big lug.

Copyright © 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott

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