Sugar Boxx – DVD Review

From the press release to the final credits, Sugar Boxx writer and director Cody Jarrett gives his best attempt at a 1970s “women in prison” film. The problem with Sugar Boxx, though, is that all the pieces of the sexploitation puzzle never fall into place. Instead the viewer sits through an hour and a half of awkward acting, inconsistent dialogue, tons of naked breasts, and loads of other types of female exploitation.

Reporter Valerie March (Geneviere Anderson) takes it upon herself to help her friend Irene (Jacqueline Scott – Empire of the Ants, Charley Varrick) find her niece, and uncover exactly what is going on in the Sugar State Woman’s Prison. With the support of her boss, she transforms from reporter to hooker, speeds down a Florida highway, and eventually gets exactly what she wants thanks to a couple of crooked cops: 15 years in Sugar State Woman’s Prison. Once there, she discovers that the domineering warden (Linda Dona – General Hospital) is the leader of a prostitution ring, using the sexiest female inmates of the prison as the pros. Valerie eventually befriends badass Loretta Sims (Thela Brown – Flavor of Love), and together, the two work to find Irene’s niece. Once the authorities refuse to help, Valerie and Loretta take justice into their own hands and seek revenge on those that have done them wrong.

Starting with the positives, Cody Jarrett has managed to bring together some of the biggest names of exploitation cinema for cameo and minor roles in Sugar Boxx. Legendary screenwriter and director Jack Hill (Coffy, Foxy Brown, The Terror), who some call the “Godfather of Blaxploitation”, makes an appearance as a judge, as does the late, great Tura Satana (Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, The Astro-Zombies). Playing minor roles are Kitten Natividad (Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens, Takin’ It All Off), and the aforementioned Jacqueline Scott. Any exploitation fan of the 70s will surely smile when these legends take the screen. That isn’t to say their work here is wonderful, but the viewer can tell that these actors, at the very least, belong in this type of film.

The same cannot be said for most of the rest of the cast, however, and the lead actors look and feel out of place in the exploitation genre. Geneviere Anderson seems to be a talented actress, but is completely miscast. She is clumsy in her stripper boots, looks funny when she puts on her hooker makeup (probably because she is a naturally beautiful woman and the makeup looks awful), and never hits the mark on those cheesy one-liners that the genre is known for. She does have an excellent body that she is willing to show off, which is the one requirement of the genre she meets and exceeds. Her co-star, a reality-show-contestant-turned-actor, Thela Brown has some funny moments, but is only as good as the script she is given, which isn’t saying much. At lest Brown looks her part, unlike Anderson.

Before watching the special features my biggest complaint was that Jarrett attempted to set this exploitation film in a modern-day setting, which doesn’t work the same way it did in the 1970s. In the Making Of, though, Jarrett explains that the film is set in 1975, not present day. This information moves my argument from one side of the spectrum to the other: there is virtually no indication that this film is set in 1975. Upon a repeated viewing, the only thing that dates the film’s story is some static televisions, which aren’t nearly enough. At one point – in Irene’s house – there even appears to be CDs in the background of the shot, and Valerie is always wearing modern clothing, which hurts the film. If Jarrett did more to place the movie where the script says it is – 1975 – the story of the movie may have worked better.

There is no doubt this film is exploitative, but that isn’t enough. Sugar Boxx is severely lacking on the humor that kept the exploitation genre alive. There are only one or two genuinely funny moments, and they come too late in the film to get the viewer interested. Though there is a ton of sex in the first half of the film, there isn’t nearly enough violence when the revenge portion of the film begins and there is literally less blood in this film than in some stage productions I have done. The movie has a chance to win the viewer over with over-the-top retribution, but fails to deliver anything noteworthy. Cody Jarrett’s third attempt at a throwback genre (Surfbroads and Frog-g-g! precede Sugar Boxx) falls short of its sexploitation label.

For a DVD release, Sugar Boxx is sufficient enough on both the audio and visual sides of the disc. There is virtually no detail in the dark scenes, though, and there is some grain throughout all of the film, but that is to be expected with such a low budget film. Sugar Boxx is presented in a 16×9 widescreen presentation with a 1.78:1 contrast ratio. The 5.1 surround sound is the only audio option, and the English SDH subtitles are the only subtitle options. The dialogue comes through clearly with the 5.1 surround sound, and that is all that is really needed in this film as it is light on important sound effects.

Trailers (3:14): Contains three trailers, all for Sugar Boxx. The first is a 30 second Tura Satana testimonial, the second is the theatrical trailer, and the third is titled “The 1970’s Exploitation”, and is meant to be a throwback to the trailers of the 70s, but it isn’t much different (in terms of style) from the theatrical trailer.

Inside the Boxx: The Making of Sugar Boxx (16:00): The first ten minutes of this feature include interviews with writer and director Cody Jarrett, and the star of the movie, Geneviere Anderson. This cements the fact that this film was shot with no budget, and that B-movie making can be a shady place for actors. Anderson talks about the nudity in the film, and says that Jarrett told her the nude scenes would be done in silhouette, or something similar, so that there wouldn’t be much of the nude actress visible. This is not the case at all, and once Anderson realized as much, she approached Jarrett about it and Jarrett replied, “That’s what all B-movie directors tell their actresses to get them to do nude scenes”. Anderson laughs it off, and obviously I don’t know Jarrett personally (to know his side of the story), but this is a nice example of the not-so-glamorous side of being a working actor.

The second half of the feature is dedicated to deleted scenes, outtakes, and setups. The one deleted scene adds nothing to the movie, but it was funnier than most of the rest of the film. There is an extended shot of a water fight, and then outtakes from a shower scene. Not much worth watching in the second half of the feature, but the opening half is entertaining enough.

“Tura Breaks Shit” Short (0:47): Much like the title implies, this is merely Tura Satana breaking things for about 45 seconds. Pointless does not begin to describe this “special” feature.

Audio Commentary with Director Cody Jarrett, Kitten Natividad, Geneviere Anderson & Joey Stafura: Kitten Natividad kicks off the sex jokes within seconds of the commentary starting. There are some laugh-out-loud moments for those that enjoy sexual humor (which, if someone is watching Sugar Boxx, he or she probably does), and the four personalities have great chemistry, and come off as likable. Kitten is constantly talking about sex, no matter what scene is playing in the movie, but still manages to play a matriarchal role in the commentary (one memorable line from Kitten during a sex scene: “Now I can’t talk; my tongue’s hard.”). The commentary track is funnier than the movie itself, almost having a Mystery Science Theatre 3000 effect on the film. Even for those who didn’t enjoy the Sugar Boxx, the commentary is highly recommended.

Obviously the sexploitation genre was created to entertain, not fulfill an artistic void in cinema, but Sugar Boxx rarely even succeeds in that regard. Sugar Boxx might have worked with a funnier script, bloodier story, or better casting, but instead it goes down as a low-budget flop. The DVD contains an excellent commentary track that actually improves the film, and a nice Making Of documentary, but these are not enough to recommend the DVD. Sugar Boxx is only worth a rental for someone who has seen all the sexploitation films of the 70s and has nothing else to watch.

Entertainment One presents Sugar Boxx. Directed by: Cody Jarrett. Starring: Geneviere Anderson, Thela Brown, and Linda Donna. Written by: Cody Jarrett. Running time: 86 minutes. Rating: R. Released on DVD: March 15, 2011.