Spice World

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It was during the height of Spice Girls Mania that the film “Spice World” was released, and oh dear I’ve lost you already, haven’t I? Yes, though it’s hard to believe, there apparently was a time when America was gripped with Spice Girls Mania. It was similar to Beatlemania, only less severe and more shameful.

The year was in 1997, and I say we “apparently” had Spice Girls Mania because I never saw any evidence of it. I didn’t like the Spice Girls. No one I knew liked them. Oh, sure, that one song of theirs was catchy enough. I wouldn’t turn it off if it came on the radio. But mania? I don’t know about that. Maybe the Spice Girls were one of those things that were really popular everywhere except the United States, like soccer, or public transportation.

At any rate, “Spice World” was an attempt to cash in on the group’s sudden success. (Its sudden, baffling, inexplicable, undeserved, apocalypse-foretelling success.) In the spirit of classic films like the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” and my Uncle Jim’s “Home Movies I Shot on My First-Generation Camcorder Where Nobody Does Anything,” “Spice World” stars the Spice Girls as … themselves. And yet they still aren’t convincing. They are five incoherently British pop-tarts who are just attractive enough to pass themselves off as “beautiful” without anyone asking questions, and wildly popular recording artists to boot. Their gimmick is that they each have a distinct persona and nickname: Scary Spice, Posh Spice, Grumpy Spice, Papa Spice, Sneezy, and Dopey, or whatever. Like 100 percent of bands that use gimmicks, the Spice Girls are not particularly talented, though they harmonize well enough and can dance in unified, choreographed movements. Really, though, this only qualifies them to perform at a state fair, and not even on the main stage.

The film portrays them as wildly popular (which, again, was apparently the case), and it takes us through a week of their hectic lives. At the outset, they announce they will perform their “first-ever” live show this Saturday, which seems suspicious, since I don’t know how they could have gotten so popular without having performed live before. Adding to my suspicion is the fact that, while preparing for their first-ever live show, they fly to Italy and perform … a live show. Perhaps that was a slip-up in the screenplay, which was written by Kim Fuller, who is a man even though he has a lady’s name. The opening credits say the film was “based on an idea by the Spice Girls,” and I’m thinking the “idea” the Spice Girls had was, “Hey, we should make a movie!” Because it’s not exactly brimming with plot.

The Girls are bossed around by their manager, Clifford (Richard E. Grant), who answers to a mysterious and fey man simply known as Chief (Roger Moore). Chief and Clifford have the same agenda, which is to keep the Spice Girls working really hard and never give them a break. These unfair labor practices, along with many complaints about the high price of stardom, and the constant intrusion of the paparazzi, comprise a strangely high percentage of the movie’s story, to the point that I wonder if the film is only interesting if you’re a Spice Girl. It seems to have been made by Spice Girls, for Spice Girls. No wonder I think it’s boring and can’t relate to it! I’m not in the target demographic!

Meanwhile, Alan Cumming plays a filmmaker who is making a documentary about the Spice Girls. He has their permission, yet he still always has to sneak in to places where they are. The fact that he is making a movie proves utterly irrelevant to the plot of the movie we’re watching. Also meanwhile, George Wendt and Mark McKinney are Hollywood producer types who keep pitching terrible movie ideas to Clifford. They are also irrelevant, and I swear George Wendt looks embarrassed. More meanwhile, Barry Humphries plays a spittle-spewing tabloid editor who — let me try to get this straight — loves the fact that the Spice Girls sell papers, but hates the fact that the stories about them are always positive, so he commissions his lackeys to manufacture some more salacious stories, in the hopes of selling papers. Which he’s already doing. This is mildly relevant to the plot, but it’s still stupid.

The bulk of the film consists of production numbers of the Spice Girls lip-synching their most popular songs, including that one that was on the radio a lot where they say “If you wanna be my lover” and you say “But I don’t!” and they say “You gotta get with my friends” and you say “BUT I DON’T LIKE YOUR FRIENDS!!” and they say “Zig-a-zig-ah” and you give up. They lip-synch some other songs too, but I didn’t recognize any of them. They also run into a lot of famous people like Elton John and Elvis Costello, as well as several people listed in the credits as “Himself” or “Themselves,” but I don’t know who they are so I assume people in England do.

The Girls’ personalities are not distinct beyond their gimmick-related costumes (e.g., Posh Spice, the one who is now married to a rugby player or something, always dresses really fancy; Baby Spice carries around a stuffed animal and poops in her pants and has to be changed by Nanny Spice; etc.). Sometimes they are portrayed as savvy and clever. Other times they are hopelessly dumb, as when their pregnant friend asks them to be the baby’s godmothers and one of the Girls says, “Do godmothers get stretch marks?” That’s supposed to be funny, you see, even though 1) it’s not and 2) nobody would really say that. The movie has lots of “funny” lines like that. Another example is when Clifford gets upset about the Girls’ frivolity and declares, “If they want to be spontaneous, they’ve got to clear it with me first!” HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA CHOKE VOMIT SUICIDE BLERGH.

Oh yeah, they have this pregnant friend, and she’s overdue, and the Girls decide they should take her out to an all-night dance club. Unsurprisingly, this sends her into labor, and the Girls almost miss their first-ever (i.e., millionth-ever) live show because they’re at the hospital with their pregnant friend whom they almost killed. While they’re there, they visit a boy in a coma, and one of the Girls brings him back to consciousness with her cleavage. I’m not even joking, either. Those are the mighty healing powers of Spice Breasts.

Oh — there’s also a scene where they wander into the woods and encounter a UFO and aliens, and the Spice Girls speak the aliens’ language, and all the aliens wanted was to get tickets to the show but it’s sold out so the Girls give them autographs instead. I swear on Rick Astley’s grave I’m not making any of that up.

The film is unquestionably lighthearted. It is meant to be fun. But it feels like forced fun, the kind the Chinese are going to make people have at the Olympics, marching them through the fairgrounds with bayonets at their backs. Watching “Spice World” is like the Droogs from “A Clockwork Orange” breaking into your house and forcing you to play charades at gunpoint, and you have no choice but to do it, and you try to smile and laugh, but all the time you’re sweating and looking over your shoulder and wishing the nightmare would end, either through rescue or your own death, whichever comes first. That is what watching “Spice World” is like, and that is what I imagine Spice Girls Mania feels like. Thank goodness scientists found a cure when they did.

— Film.com