Directed by Vic Sarin
Written by Ben Johnstone, Anelies Kavan and Vic Sarin
Starring Katherine McNamara, Jasmine Sky Sarin and Armand Assante
Classification N/A; 103 minutes
Streaming on Prime Video starting Nov. 18
If the new thriller Sugar, the first “Canadian Amazon Original” film from Prime Video, is meant to plant the streamer’s flag in the domestic market with confidence, then someone needs to call back Jeff Bezos from space to testify in front of the Senate because Ottawa, we have a problem.
Announced with a sizable amount of fanfare this past April as part of Prime Video’s big made-in-Canada roll-out – which could cynically be read as a pre-emptive strike against the requirements of the still-being-debated Online Streaming Act Bill C-11 – Sugar has all the surface elements of success. It is based on the real-life tabloid sensations known as the “Cocaine Cowgirls,” two young Montrealer social-media stars who got mixed up in a drug-smuggling operation overseas. It has energetic young stars in Katherine McNamara and Jasmine Sky Sarin. And it’s even got mafioso-movie credibility thanks to Armand Assante, who plays an aging drug lord.
In the right hands and given just half a per cent of The Rings of Power’s craft services budget, Sugar could deliver just the kind of low-rent but high-value thrills that will keep Canadians distracted enough on a chilly Saturday night from flipping over to Prime Video’s chief competitor, Netflix. But Sugar is instead in the hands of Vic Sarin, a magnificently prolific but hack-eyed Canadian filmmaker who specializes in the kind of cheap made-for-TV movies with such titles as A Wife’s Nightmare, A Father’s Nightmare, and A Surrogate’s Nightmare. No knock on Sarin’s industriousness – it isn’t easy making a living in the Canadian system – but the only conclusion that can be made from hiring the director to make Sugar is that Prime Video simply doesn’t give a flying Canuck about the quality of its domestic lineup.
The story, such as it is, follows Chloe (McNamara), a Montreal party girl who is facing some serious debts from ridiculously accented Quebecois gangsters. Given the opportunity to make some quick cash from her sorta-boyfriend Jules (Éric Bruneau), Chloe recruits the innocent and lonely Melanie (Sky Sarin, a.ka. the director’s daughter) to be her new BFF. The scheme is easy: the two girls board a luxury cruise for seven weeks, entertain Jules’s sketchy associates by being sociable arm candy, and then collect a wad of cash once the ship docks in Australia. If the real-life cocaine cowgirls made as consistently stupid decisions as Chloe and Melanie, though, then perhaps the prosecution team didn’t have to work all that hard.
Set aside the fact that Sugar’s screenplay is filled with holes, that its characters are as loathsome as they are thinly sketched, that its budget is as bare-bones as your local No Frills, and we are still left with a movie that is barely competent on a technical level. Is this Sugar even legally allowed to call itself a movie? Scenes don’t stick or make spatial sense, the performances are dreadful in that uniquely open-mic-night way, and the entire endeavour is padded with enough stock-footage shots of exotic locales to make Prime Video subscribers wonder if they accidentally hit the screen-saver option on their Apple TVs.
If you absolutely must watch Sugar – perhaps out of some misguided patriotic duty, perhaps because you are a member of the Sarin family – then I suppose you can appreciate whatever it is that Assante is doing with his Christopher Walken-gone-to-seed performance. I can only hope that the actor made sure to be paid in USD, though. Because the global conversion rates on this Cancon production are going to be brutal.