In Bad Taste

'Sugar and Spice' has nothing nice.

It's hard to believe that someone could go wrong making a movie about felonious, pregnant cheerleaders, but against all odds New Line Cinema did so with Sugar and Spice.

Basically, Sugar and Spice is cheerleader porn. We see the cheerleaders flouncing about in their midriff-baring uniforms, we see them getting it on with their boyfriends, we see them sharing a box of tampons. All great stuff for the audience of young boys and raincoat-wearing, middle-aged men I'm sure the movie was meant to attract.

Sadly, as with so many films in this post-Lieberman age, all of this has to fit into the ubiquitous PG-13 rating. That kind of thing can really ruin the commercial chances of a film like Sugar and Spice, i.e. a film with no script, no plot, and acting that would be laughed off a high-school stage. A film like that really cries out for bare breasts, but thanks to our ever-vigilant congressmen and their urge to find meaningless issues to distract us from the fact that the planet is warming at an alarming rate and the ozone layer is rapidly vanishing, we can no longer expect nudity in every film aimed at pre-teens.

Thus, there's the need for a story. On paper, this one sounds kind of promising: The head cheerleader gets pregnant, and her mentally diminished, high-school quarterback husband (James Marsden, who was much more believable as the super-powered mutant leader in X-Men) is unable to financially support her. Since babies are expensive, she decides to persuade the best of her cheerleaders to help her rob a bank.

This high-concept idea screams out for a series of scenes wherein cheerleading routines are combined with gunplay and getaways. Oddly, only one such scene occurs in this tremendously long 83-minute film.

Much of that 83 minutes is spent on the jealous rantings of B-squad cheerleader Lisa Janusch (Marla Sokoloff, who's shockingly atrocious here, in sharp contrast to her work on television, where she's usually excellent). It seems Lisa is in the position to rat the squad out to the cops, and the story is told from the perspective of her interrogation room interview. This is a cute concept that takes well over two minutes to become annoying.

Meanwhile, the film keeps flashing back to the plotting cheerleaders as they huddle together in PG-13 lingerie and engage in PG-13 sex talk while preparing to perpetrate some PG-13 violence.

In order to get the guns necessary to pull this off, they're forced to accept ugly-duckling Fern into their squad. You know, it's one of those guns-for-ugly-girls deals that were so popular in the Reagan era. Of course, Fern is ugly in that special Hollywood way: She's played by a stunningly beautiful fashion model who's made to look like she's having a bad hair day.

As the white-trashiest member of the squad, Fern completes the set of stereotypes needed for a full complement of cheerleaders. There's the religious virgin, the slutty girl, the rebel girl, the beautiful and poised girl and, I don't know, some other girl who spends a lot of time bending over. They're kind of the modern, kinderporn equivalent of the rag-tag squad of soldiers who single-handedly win the battle in one of those stock WWII films. I guess with the great wars behind us, and nothing but environmental disaster ahead, we take our heroes where we can find them, and then remove any clothing that's covering their belly buttons.

Among the actors wasted on this atrocity is Mena Suvari, who gave such a dazzling performance in last year's American Beauty that one would think she was poised for at least mediocrity. If this film is any indication, that's going to be a high mark for her to hit.

In what one hopes is not an example of real-life foreshadowing, her mother is played by Sean Young, one of the few actresses ever to successfully make the leap from starring roles in A-list movies to "starring" roles in direct-to-video erotic thrillers. Sean Young's appearance here kind of sums up the whole film, in that she makes it clear by her campy performance that she's slumming by appearing in this film. Of course, "slumming" is not something that's all that easy to do for an actress who appears in direct-to-video erotica, but I guess the only step down from there is fake cheerleader porn.

Sugar and Spice is playing at Century El Con (202-3343), Century Gateway (792-9000), Century Park (620-0750), DeAnza Drive-In (745-2240) and Foothills (742-6174).