A scene from 'Sugar Town'
Courtesy Photo
** stars 93 minutes | Rated: R
Friday, September 17, 1999 (NY/LA)
Friday, October 1, 1999 (wider)
Written & directed by Allison Anders & Kurt Voss

Starring Rosanna Arquette, Alley Sheedy, John Taylor, Michael Des Barres, Beverly D'Angelo, John Doe, Richmond Arquette & Martin Kemp

Interview with Allison Anders & Kurt Voss

Rosanna Arquette:
"Buffalo '66" (1998)
"Crash" (1997)

Contrived aging rock star dramedy 'Sugar Town' needed another pass through the word processor

By Rob Blackwelder

"Sugar Town" is a hastily thrown-together, satirical showbiz dramedy concerning washed up '80s rock stars learning generic life lessons about responsibility, trust, fidelity and aging gracefully, and it wouldn't be interesting at all if it didn't feature a curiously appropriate cast.

John Taylor (late of Duran Duran), Michael Des Barres (The Power Station), Martin Kemp (Spandau Ballet) and John Doe (X) are all uniquely qualified for their roles as four former pop icons trying to stage a comeback with a new band and lousy record no label will touch.

One has become a semi-rural family man, tempted to go back on the road (and to cheat on his pregnant wife) by a sexy Tejano singer (Lumi Cavazos). Another has an acrid, 11-year-old punk in bad '80s make-up (what 11-year-old boy wears makeup?) left on his doorstep by a groupie who claims he's the father. Another has become a small-time drug dealer, and the last is desperately clinging to his faded sex appeal, not realizing how pathetic he looks to the 19-year-old girls he comes on to in bars.

All of them give honest, understated and more than adequate performances -- especially considering the film's trite, simplistic relationships -- and hold their own co-starring with a handful of under-appreciated but powerful actresses (Rosanna Arquette, Beverly D'Angelo, Ally Sheedy).

But "Sugar Town" was scripted in eight days and shot in 15 by co-writers and directors Allison Anders and Kurt Voss, and boy does it show.

The good acting can't cover up the fact that this picture needed some serious finessing that the rushed production schedule didn't allow, and there's no reason Anders and Voss couldn't have slowed down. But they took this tack intentionally, wanting to recapture their days of yore making shoestring budget indies like "Border Radio" and "Mi Vida Loca."

If they succeeded in that, the spirit didn't make it to the screen. The storylines are contrived, the dialogue flat and superficial -- save a few killer lines ("He's practically perfect," says the man-less, esteem-deficient Sheedy. "He's not an alcoholic and he's been in therapy for four years!") -- and once you get a bead on the characters, the picture becomes sadly predictable.

While sentiments are sincere (but shallow), Anders' and Voss' rye showbiz observations have been recycled without being refreshed -- Arquette plays an actress appalled at being offered a part as Christina Ricci's mother; relative unknown Jade Gordon is a talentless, back-stabbing starlet blowing her way to the top -- and ultimately the picture just feels half-assed.

It's as if instead of shouting "Cut!" at the end of each take, the directors said, "That'll do. Let's move on."


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