SUGAR Review: Sweet, Spicy, Stylish Hollywood Noir

Colin Farrell, Kirby, Amy Ryan, and James Cromwell star in the cool new detective story, debuting on Apple TV+.

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, US (@peteramartin)
SUGAR Review: Sweet, Spicy, Stylish Hollywood Noir

Do you like film noir? I love film noir. So does Mark Protosevich.

The first two episodes debut globally Friday, April 5, on Apple TV+. New episodes debut every Friday. I've seen all eight episodes.

If the ridiculous last name doesn't give it away, surely the sharp-cut suit that adorns John Sugar (Colin Farrell) or his manner of speaking quietly yet forcefully or his propensity for fisticuffs or the cool and stylish car he drives or the friendly dog he takes with him everywhere will give it away.

Unfailingly polite, gentle and caring to strangers, and considerate of the needs of others, John Sugar never takes advantage of anyone, even as he himself is driven by an overriding desire to find lost souls and reunite them with their loved ones. So when mega-successful Hollywood film producer (James Cromwell) hires him to find his missing granddaughter (Sydney Chandler), it's not a question of if John Sugar will find the girl, and more a question of when and how many people he'll be forced to injure and/or kill in order to accomplish his mission.

No matter how impossible his mission may appear to others, to John Sugar, his mission is not simply possible but already done in his mind's eye. Every one of these character traits and plot twists are borrowed wholesale from the Film Noir Playbook, which is reinforced by the continuous insertion of moments from classic noir films of the past, to the point of distraction and (almost) irritation, because who could be irritated by constant references to film noir?

Created by Mark Protosevich, he also wrote the first two episodes and wrote (or co-wrote) several others in the eight-episode series, Sugar makes its multitude of inspirations apparent early and often, which leads the attentive viewer to the inevitable conclusion that there must be something else beneath the surface, because absolutely no individual film or narrative series has been soaked in the fashions, style, and storytelling ticks and techniques of film noir without (eventually) betraying its own distinctive twist(s)

Therefore, the relative success of Sugar depends on the degree that the viewer is able to indulge in Mark Protosevich's narrative designs. Anyone familiar with his past work, ranging from The Cell (2000) to Poseidon (2006) to I Am Legend (2007) to Thor (2011) to Oldboy (2013) can't help but be intrigued by the prospect of Protosevich's first series as a creator, writer, and producer.

Before those narrative designs become fully apparent in the eight-episode series, the style provides a steady base for the performances to play against. Farrell is fine, a steady hero who's good-looking and looks to do good, even if not everyone can appreciate that about him. The terrific Amy Ryan is terrific once again as a popular musician reaching a crossroads in her career.

Kirby plays a character called simply Ruby and remains a figure of helpful mystery, while James Cromwell, Denis Boutsikaris, and Nate Corddry effectively embody three generations of a Hollywood dynasty that manifests three degrees of creepiness. If you've ever lived or worked in Hollywood, you'll recognize the types they represent.

The cast includes nasty stalwarts like Eric Lange, the kind of actor who inspires fearful apprehension from the moment he appears, as well as good actors whose presence makes me wish they had more to do, like Miguel Sandoval and Anna Gunn.

Each of the eight episodes moves at a good pace, but sometimes there's not enough meat to justify the running time, often getting the job done in well under 45 minutes. That left me always wanting more, which applies to the series as a whole: it's tasty, yet I couldn't help wishing for more substance to accompany the full-throated homage to film noir.

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Amy RyanApple TV+Colin FarrellJames CromwellKirbyMark Protosevich

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