The title character of "Sugar" is Miguel Santos (Algenis Perez Soto), a Dominican baseball prospect armed with an impressive array of pitches — including a nearly unhittable curveball.
The film itself throws some curves at moviegoers. At first it appears to be a rather familiar drama, one about the perils and pitfalls of sports stardom. But then it turns into something different and more fresh.
That the movie manages to avoid some of the customary cliches and formulaic machinations of the sports drama genre makes the film rewarding, as do the performances by its mostly fresh-faced cast.
Newcomer Soto stars as Sugar Santos, who's been signed to a developmental deal with the major-league Kansas City franchise.
And after showing some promise during spring training, Sugar has been called up to play for the team's minor-league franchise in a Iowa farming community. He's also been sent to stay with a foster family, Helen and Earl Higgins (Ann Whitney and Richard Bull). They're avid baseball fans who are more than happy to feed and house him as long as he's keeping his nose clean and as long as he's making progress.
At first, Sugar basks in the glow of adoration, having won his first few games. But he becomes increasingly frustrated as the season grinds on and he begins to experience some regrets about the life he left behind in the Dominican Republic.
This film is the second big-screen collaboration from "Half Nelson" screenwriting and directing team Anna Fleck and Ryan Bowden. It's not an outright home run, as that movie was, but it does have occasional low-key humor and some effective moments of quiet drama.
And again, it doesn't really go where you're expecting. The film's final third or so is such a drastic departure that it almost seems like a different movie. But it's in keeping with the quixotic nature of its main character.
Speaking of that character, the charismatic Soto shows some impressive chops. He's convincing in the baseball scenes and in the more sedate ones.
"Sugar" is rated R and features strong sexual language (profanity, vulgar slang and other suggestive talk), derogatory language and slurs (mostly based on race), some brief strong violence (a bar brawl and a baseball fracas), a brief sex scene, and some brief drug content and references (painkillers and steroids). Running time: 114 minutes.