"Spice World" is da bomb... "A Hard Day's Night" for the Nineties with a decidedly neo-feminist perspective, a snappy mockumentary bursting with energy and the musical musings of the way popular Fab Five, that had me totally paused.
As if! This latest chapter in the way overdone media campaign to build brand awareness for an entertainment product aimed at grabbing a greater share of pre-pubescent entertainment spending is a flimsy combination of stilted performances, juvenile humor, with a tenuous narrative core that barely holds the lame-duck sketch-pieces together. Mind you, I do appreciate the Spice Girls for their musical talent (!), but sitting through this breezy movie was way harsh.
Mel B. (Scary), Emma (Baby), Mel C. (Sporty), Geri (Ginger), and Victoria (Posh) have their first live gig in front of thousands of screaming fans at London's Royal Albert Hall, and all they have to do is show up. However, during the five days leading up to the concert, The Spice Girls will have to contend with a spiteful tabloid tycoon (Barry Humphries) out to tarnish the good name of The Spice Girls, the ubiquitous paparazzi photographer (Richard O'Brien) hired to take incriminating pictures, a best friend (Naoki Mori) about to give birth (I'll give you two guesses on the sex of this child!), and a host of other adventures, including abduction by aliens, a daring rescue at sea (well not really-- it wasn't that daring and it takes place in the Thames River), and a "Speed"-like mad dash through the streets of London in the Spice's looks-larger-on-the-inside-than-it-does-outside double decker tour bus. Along for the ride are the Spice's uptight manager Clifford (Richard E. Grant of "Whitnail and I"-- good to see he's still getting work), his mousy assistant (Claire Rushbrook, last seen in "Secrets & Lies"), Dennis the bus driver (Meat Loaf), a documentary film crew (a vain attempt at comic relief that never quite clicks), a film producer (George Wendt-- Norm from "Cheers") with ideas for the Spice Girls' first movie, and the mysterious Blofeld-ian Chief (former Bond Roger Moore) who controls the Spices' every move with pseudo-philosophical babble. The pic is also populated with a parade of British who's who show up in a series of 'campeos', including Elton John, Bob Geldof, Elvis Costello, Bob Hoskins, and Stephen Fry.
Consistent with the down-to-earth image that the Spices' have created with their numerous MTV appearances, this movie is an often self-deprecating look at the group, playing up on the personalities of each member, such as Baby's bubbly ditziness or Posh's fashion-obsession (which gets her the best lines and visual gags in the movie). Another hallmark of the Spice phenomenon is seen in their music, a fusion of retro-riffs and contemporary musical chic to produce the distinctively bouncy and radio-friendly Spice Girl sound. "Spice World" also reflects this approach, pandering to its media-savvy audience with an often self-reflexive (à la "Scream" and "Scream 2") plundering of the cultural constructs of the past three decades, sometimes to great effect (I was totally sprung on "Spice Force Five") and sometimes not (such as the Hercule Poirot daydream sequence). What is also interesting about "Spice World" is that even though it was thrown together over six weeks in the summer of 1997, there is a certain timeliness to some of the aspects of the story, such as the malicious meddling of the British tabloid press, an ongoing concern over Spice Girl backlash, and the tension between the Spice Girls and their manager (which became a self-fulfilling prophecy with the recent firing of Simon Fuller, their manager and exec-producer for the movie). Finally, the musical interludes, starting with the James Bond-esque opening credit sequence, are vibrant and flashy, featuring alternative versions of the Spice Girls' ditties, and an interesting cover of Gary Glitter's "Leader of the Gang", which eschews the normal synthesizer bassline for a more edgy hard guitar sound.
But despite these gratifying gee-whiz moments, the movie fails on many points. With exception to the Spice Girls, the other characters that populate this pic are merely thinly-drawn caricatures, resulting in maudlin melodrama that is so "Saved by the Bell". And though director Bob Spiers has an extensive background in television ("Absolutely Fabulous" and "Fawlty Towers"), where economy of storytelling is paramount, he allows the overindulgence of the Spices' flighty aspirations take hold of the movie, resulting in several scenes that overstay their welcome, exacerbating the numerous attempts at humor that fall flat on execution. And to top it off, it has one of those cloying and annoying endings where the music of the "Spice Girls" helps all the characters set aside their differences, spreading their universal message of love, joy, and having a rockin' good time (puh-lease!).
The screaming fans of the Spice Girls most likely will not be disappointed by this film, which gives them exactly what they want, though some of the British-specific humor and old-school references may be over their heads. But if you happen to be a parent of one of these screaming fans, the occasional flashes of brilliance will not be enough to sustain your interest-- you may want to drop them off at the front door and do something more productive with your time.