Spice World (1998)

Before *Spice World*, the faux film about the faux fab five Spice Girls, started, I was having a fairly enjoyable time at the movies. The theatre was buzzing with excitement as the audience, composed primarily of squealing pre-adolescent girls, eagerly awaited their next "Girl power" fix. The gaggle of little women sitting behind me had a major crisis when it became apparent that one of them would have to sit next to a *boy*. A strange boy. Luckily, their chaperone interceded, and the transmission of cooties was avoided.

The fun ended as the movie began. The Spice Girls themselves aren't really to blame. *Spice World* is in the same mold as *Hard Day's Night*, a slight, slice of life bit o' fluff about British rock stars on a concert tour which climaxes with a frantic effort to reach Albert Hall in time for the big show. The five Spices work their rather limited talents with charm and energy, but are wholly undone by a virtually nonexistent script (by Kim Fuller) and Bob Spiers' utterly inert, leaden directing. *Spice World* is little more than an extended music video, with surprisingly little music. What scant plot there is would have about filled a three minute video, but the movie stretches it too far, and then stretches it some more.

If you're older than 13, the Spice Girls phenomenon may have escaped your notice. Scary (Melanie Brown), Baby (Emma Bunton), Sporty (Melanie Chisholm), Ginger (Geri Halliwell) and Posh Spice (Victoria Addams) are a Monkees-type manufactured singing group of scantily clad, anatomically gifted lasses. They were overnight sensations when their first album, *Spice*, became a huge hit. Britain's princes Harry, William and Charles, and Nelson Mandela are among their fans. Then the Girls had a not-so-big hit record, and were booed off a stage in Spain. They fired their manager/creator (aka Svengali Spice), and are rumored to be on the verge of breaking up. Now that's a movie! A real *Truth or Dare* type documentary about the Girls could have been pretty spicy, and far more interesting than this bland, half-hearted roman a clef which has them riding around London in their Union Jack-decorated Spice bus (driven by Meat Loaf) and shouting "Girl power!" in between mildly interesting encounters with space aliens, assorted genuine musicians (Elton John, Bob Geldof, Elvis Costello) and sneaky tabloid spies.

The little snippets of plot in *Spice World* concern the Spices' tribulations with their overbearing, artery-popping manager Clifford (Richard E. Grant), a pregnant single mom friend (Naoko Mori), a pretentious documentary filmmaker (Alan Cumming, deliciously affected) and a villainous tabloid publisher (Barry Humphries) who so hates the Girls that he engineers the group's break-up. Clifford, meanwhile, contends with a pair of movie producers (George Wendt and Mark McKinney) who pitch an assortment of lame ideas for a Spice movie (some of which were at least as good as *this* movie), and the mysterious Chief (Roger Moore), the behind-the-scenes Spice master (modeled after a James Bond villain) who is seen shaking martinis and petting a variety of small animals while babbling incoherent aphorisms.

As for the Girls themselves, they're given little to do other than talk about clothes, wear clothes, change clothes, tease each other, contemplate superstardom, drift off into the occasional fantasy, frolic and dance about and lip synch (badly), while wearing vertiginously tall shoes. Spice Girls music is strangely downplayed in *Spice World*, and, while there is surely better music than the Spice Girls brand of candy pop, isn't music the point of a movie like this? Missing an opportunity to give their fans a dose of girl empowerment, Girl power doesn't get much of a workout in *Spice World* either, and even when it does (as when Sporty Spice leaps from a speedboat to rescue Posh and two little Fan Spices), the results are laughably inane.

The controlled and contrived Spice personalities are not elaborated upon at all in the movie, each consisting of one prominent characteristic plus a lollipop: Scary is the wild one with the biggest hair, Sporty exercises, Posh is bored unless considering makeup, Ginger is glamorously blowsy, and Baby Spice is sweetly childish. The girls do engage in a fair amount of self-aware humor, a recognition, for example, that the Wonderbra deserves at least some of the credit for their success, and an acknowledgment that their cultural influence far exceeds their cultural contribution (when Ginger sarcastically says "Is the Pope Catholic?" it sets off a crisis in the Vatican). Given the pulchritudinousness and energy of the Spice Girls, and the number of talented actors who make appearances in *Spice World* (to the abovementioned add Stephen Fry, Bob Hoskins and Jennifer Saunders, among others), *Spice World* should have been at least as good as a Spice Girls record, which is a fairly low standard, but one this movie never approaches.