As with most things in the forty years of pop culture since they changed the dynamic, it's all The Beatles' fault. Had they not found success both musically and in movies, we wouldn't have to put up with the notion that the two mediums should continuously cross. Actually, Elvis really got the ball rolling, but the boy from Tupelo was more of an advertisement than an actor. No, the Fab Four illustrated quite effectively that the charm and wit they showed on vinyl could easily translate to celluloid. Thanks to their Hard Day's/Help triumphs, Britain branded all of its '60s invaders marketable. From Herman's Hermits (who starred in Hold On! And Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter), Gerry and the Pacemakers (in Ferry Cross the Mersey), to later stars like the loveable Sex Pistols (The Great Rock and Roll Swindle), the UK loves to put its hit parade idols in stunted starring vehicles. Spice World is a perfect example of this misguided ideal. Hoping to be an ironic mockery of the whole musical tour genre, what we get instead are five fluffy mannequins who are frequently out-acted by a double-decker bus.
The Spice Girls - Scary, Sporty, Baby, Ginger, and Posh, are preparing for their first ever live appearance at the Royal Albert Hall, and everyone is on edge. That includes their manager, his assistant, their bus driver, the corporate chief, the local tabloid publisher, his loyal underling, the menacing paparazzi they've hired to destroy the group, the Hollywood producer and scriptwriter who want to feature the girls on film, and a documentarian hired to capture the true essence of the fivesome. So as they rehearse with a new band, try out original material, coo over their pregnant friend's impending birth, and basically snipe like superstars, it appears fate is forming against the gals. They'll either make it to the show on time and succeed beyond everyone's wildest dreams, or break up in the process. It's all a part of the everyday (bump and) grind for the empowering combo and their Spice World.
While not the worst case of crass cross over promotion perpetrated by a chart-topper (From Justin to Kelly? Hello?) Spice World is one dull, superficial struggle. Made a mere one year into their reign as England's sexed up response to pre-millennial malaise and nine months before Geri "Big Racked Ginger Spice" Halliwell would exit the million seller, this not so clever commentary on fame, backlash, and the enigmatic statement of strength 'Girl Power' is all diddle and very little bock. It tries to emulate the Richard Lester reimagining of those lads from Liverpool (each girl gets a specific personality trait or type) while pouring in as many attention span shortening cameos as possible (Elton John, Elvis Costello, Jennifer Saunders). Being British, it thinks it's inherently droll and witty. Being a bad comedy, it's automatically dung and rather sh*tty. Even the songs suck, a weird retro reconfiguration of Latin beats, bad ballroom dance tracks, and enough ersatz torch songing to give Marc Almond the diva willies. Nothing here is as memorable as the gals' first album. All ear worm fodder has been commercially coerced out of the band, beleaguering their status as manufactured masturbation fodder filtered through a pre-tween kid friendly case of wish fulfillment.
The plot is pointless, a couple of days in the life of some less than appealing superstars. As performers, the girls are listless and contrived. Emma "Baby Spice" Bunton plays the coo-coo cupie doll card so often you want to slap the pigtails off her head, while Mel "Sport Spice" Chisholm's sole contribution is a never-ending stream of football (aka soccer) riffs. Mel "Having Eddie Murphy's Baby - Scary Spice" Brown is all overdone Leeds accent, while the soon to be Mrs. Beckham, Victoria "Posh" Spice is Gucci obsessed and snooty. Talk about original! All they need is a guy dressed in drag screeching in a proto-pepperpot voice to really capture the essence of UK jive. Instead, we get Australia's Barry Humphries as a pseudo Rupert Murdoch, Rocky Horror composer/star Richard O'Brien as a menacing paparazzi, Richard E Grant as their hyperactive manager (a jab at their real life guide, the hated Simon Fuller???), and Meatloaf as the babes' driver. Toss in Alan Cummings as a doltish documentarian, George Wendt and The Kids in the Hall's Mark McKinney as movie pitch men, and Roger Moore as the befuddled chief, and you've got a company only a casting director could concoct.
Perhaps the saddest bit of news extracted from this travesty is the lack of energy shown by director Bob Spiers. This is the man who lifted The Goodies, Fawlty Towers, Bottom, and Absolutely Fabulous to the heights of English Television humor, and yet his work with the Spice sluts dies like a gutted halibut. Running gags choke on their own vomit, while certain scenes appear cobbled together from random takes. Granted, it must have been hard to work with these non-actresses, dialogue readings resembling pick up lines in lonely dive bars, but something here should have sizzled. You've got Stephen Fry and Jennifer Saunders. The script was written by Kim Fuller, a crack Brit scribe. The situation was rife for some ego deflating satire all around. Indeed, the great thing A Hard Day's Night did was turn Beatlemania into a full blown farce. In Spice World, the girls still believe their own hype. They stay solidly within their archetypes and let the narrative nod off around them. When compared to crap like Cool as Ice, or anything made by Madonna, this soured little sweet is innocuous enough. But for a band as already shallow as this frisky quintet, an equally phony film just won't do. Sadly, that's all we end up with here.
Gaudy, colorful, and almost cartoonish, the newly remastered (or so the label says) transfer of Spice World looks smashing. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image is sharp, controlled, and very, very bright. On an eye candy scale, it's like crack-laced spun sugar. Too bad the action it complements is so stodgy.
In the good news/bad news department, Sony has provided the girl's goofy ear worms in gorgeously detailed Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. Granted, the expanded mix does very little for the rest of the film - the dialogue is easy to hear, but there's a real lack of depth when it comes to the overall ambience - but as long as it serves the songs, who cares, right? Fans of the quintet will love this presentation. Others will consider it standard studio basics.
Aside from another in concert drone (for the sad song "Mama") and a theatrical trailer, there is no additional content provided here - which is odd, when you realize that the only reason this double dip exits is to promote the gal's upcoming reunion tour. Some mention of the group's return should have been provided...at least something more than the sticker on the packaging proclaiming the girl's concert cash grabs.
Spice World stinks despite the presence of people who should know better, in deference to those whose talent, title, and tenacity should have warned them against participation. Apparently, appearing lockstep in stride with a growing international phenomenon usurps career and legacy. If you're one of those diehards who started itching the minute you heard your favorite pre-menopausal pop stars were setting aside their (income) differences and getting back together, you will definitely want to run right out and Rent this title, if only to see the girls sans significant age issues. Otherwise, more cultured film fans will want to avoid this effort like the non-boy band Bubonic plague. Skip It is the only way to go. In the history of Britain, the Spice Girls deserve some minor mention. In an era reliant on marketed disposability, they were one of the most throwaway. Why anyone wanted them back - or this cinematic souvenir of their reign - will have to remain a private, if perplexing, media mystery.
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