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Spice World (1997)

27 December 2004 by Gnoll One Comment


1997, dir. Bob Spiers
93 min. Rated PG.
Starring: Richard E. Grant, Alan Cummings, George Wendt, Mark McKinney. Oh, and some girls, too.

Review by Gnoll

Before I can get into my honest criticism of the film Spice World, I feel that it is my duty to explain to you my brief history with the film’s stars: those five bubbly brit girls known collectively as the Spice Girls.

The year was 1997. William Jefferson Clinton had recently been elected to a second term as President of the United States of America. Timothy McVeigh was sentenced to death for his part in the bombings of an Oklahoma City Federal Building. The People’s Republic of China gained the sovereignty of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom. The world mourned the passings of Princess Diana, Mother Theresa, and James Stewart. And, most importantly, the Spice Girls were unleashed upon America.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw the Spice Girls. It was early 1997. I had just had an argument with my then-girlfriend about whether or not I was morally opposed to smoking pot, simply because I chose not to smoke it. Suddenly, she wouldn’t talk to me, so I sat in silence watching MTV. Beck’s “New Pollution” was on, which featured lots of weird fractals and stuff that freaked her out. And then, I saw “Wannabe”.

Maybe it was the catchy tune. Perhaps it was the frenetic “one-shot” camera direction in the video. Or maybe it was the hot chicks with thick English accents. But for some reason, I was instantly mesmerized. The Spice Girls became, for me, the guiltiest of pleasures. No, I would have never purchased any one of their musical compilations, but there was something to their music that grabbed me, and I didn’t even have to be looking at them for the effect to occur. Yes, despite the fact that I was generally sucked in to the ultra-trendy alterna-chic sounds of The Smashing Pumpkins and Oasis and The Cure, The Spice Girls rubbed my auditory nerve in just the right way.

Image was, of course, part of the appeal. Previously, girl groups weren’t given the power to shine as individual personalities. But the Spice Girls all had their own characters:

Geri Halliwell, the red-haired sparkplug with the curves, was my favorite. She was originally dubbed “Sexy Spice”, but I’m assuming in response to the Spice Girls’ audience’s average age being about 10 years old, she was later rechristened “Ginger Spice”. Geri was the outcast of the group, though. She was a few years older than the rest, and was revealed to have done some cheesecake photos earlier in her career. She left the group at the height of their success, and went on to become a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations.

Melanie Chisolm, better known as “Sporty Spice”, wore athletic wear all the time (hence the nickname) and had the most distinguishable voice in the group. Melanie Brown, she who was dubbed “Scary Spice”, served as kind of a de facto “leader” of the Spice Girls. Victoria Adams, a.k.a. “Posh Spice”, seemed like she was bored the whole time, but went on to more fame when she married Soccer star David Beckham. And finally, Emma Bunton, dubbed “Baby Spice”, was the youngest member of the group, as well as the last one to come aboard.

As the Spice Girls infiltrated the radio airwaves, some hostshot producer got the bright idea to make a movie starring the girls. Now, here’s where a series of unfortunate events occurred in my life that prevented me from witnessing this celluloid event. You see, I worked in the video store where Movie Criticism for the Retarded took roots from the Fall of 1994 until the Spring of 1998. During shifts, I would have the opportunity to catch dozens of films that I would normally never watch, so long as they were family-friendly. A PG-rated movie (or the occasional PG-13 one) would go into the VCR on one of those slow days, and I’d sit back and soak it in. Otherwise, I’d have never seen stuff like Dunston Checks In and Angels in the Outfield.

Spice World, the feature film highlighting the Spice Girls, was released theatrically in January of 1998 in the States. At the time of its release, I made no effort whatsoever to see it theatrically, despite my shameful Spice weakness. Why bother, anyway, considering that it was rated PG? After all, in six months, it would be out on video, and I’d be able to watch it in the store…and get paid for it!

But alas, it was not to be. In April of 1998, the competition finally forced us to close the doors of that store, and my Spice World experience was to be delayed indefinitely. For some reason, I never bothered to seek out a copy of the film, despite hundreds of trips to various video rental establishments over the past few years. But one day, through the power of the online DVD rental experience, that would change.

Last night, I finally watched Spice World.

Perhaps it lost a little flavor over the years. Maybe if I had seen it at the height of Spice Mania, I’d have loved it more than life itself. But even nearly seven years after its release, I still have a final confession: I kinda liked it.

I certainly liked it better than the hordes of folks who voted it as low as they did on the Internet Movie Database, putting it near the top of the “Worst Movies of All Time” list. I certainly liked it better than Roger Ebert, who used his entire review space not criticizing the film, but rather slamming the Spice Girls on a personal level. And I’m sure I liked it more than the American moviegoing audience, who didn’t exactly make the film a “hit” by any stretch of the imagination.

Sure, Spice World is silly. Its stars are not Oscar-caliber actors. The script is written to appeal to young children. But Spice World knows exactly what it is, plays to its own strengths, and doesn’t try to hide these facts.

The gist of the movie is simple. The Spice Girls play themselves. They’re touring Europe, selling out arenas, and giving the world a dose of “Girl Power”. Some Hollywood types are trying to pin down their manager to cast them in a movie vehicle. A jealous reporter is trying to defame the girls and cause them to break up. The girls have their moments of weakness, but pull it all together at the end. Girl Power prevails.

The Spice Girls aren’t actors. The movie plays to that fact, by simply putting them in ridiculous situations and letting them go. Each one of them is able to put a little of their personality into their performance, and better yet, they’re not afraid to be ridiculed for their musical talents either. At one point, while choreographing a dance number, Baby tells the director that “we can’t dance like that”, and the replies “I know. I’ve seen your videos!” Another barb is taken when the director yells to the girls about their performance, “That was absolutely perfect…without being actually any good.”

The real charm of Spice World, however, isn’t even the Spice girls themselves. Sure, they play their roles about as well as you might expect, but the real charmers are the supporting cast here. A couple of England’s most talented stars; Richard E. Grant and Alan Cumming, take up residence here as the band’s manager and documentarian. Roger Moore is brilliantly cast as The Chief, although one of the film’s heroes, a fantastic parody of a Bond Villain. George Wendt and Mark McKinney are the Yanks who have come to sell the Spice Girls on starring in their own movie. Cameos pop up from all over the place, including appearances by Elton John, Elvis Costello, Jennifer Saunders, Bob Hoskins, and even Meat Loaf, who drives the Girls’ tour bus.

Mr. Loaf, in fact, bags one of the film’s funniest lines. After the bus (which is larger on the inside than the outside and features about every amenity known to man) has all of the toilets go out, the Spice Girls go to take a tinkle in the woods, where they meet a gang of extraterrestrials. When asked to fix the toilets, Meat Loaf states that “I love those girls. And I’d do anything for them. But I won’t do that”.

Gripe all you want, but it’s not as bad as people say it is. Spice World, for the most part, is simply a big fat promo reel for the group, but it makes the most of that fact. It’s not the cleverest film of all time, but it knows what it is. Kids can watch it, but it’s not exactly a kiddie flick. Adults can watch it, but there isn’t anything inherently adult about it either.

Fact of the matter is, if you decide you’re going to hate this movie beforehand, you probably will. That’s fine, but for those who are a little more open-minded, this film is no worse than the movies The Beatles starred in forty years ago. It’s no worse than any one episode of The Monkees television series. And it’s certainly no worse than half of the convoluted Hollywood crap that passes for “hit movies” in this day and age.

One Comment »

  • Richard Persaud said:

    Bro, I totally agree with you. Except for one thing- Spice Girls is one of the most monumental films of the 20th century solely because it served as a huge example for the evolution of the nineties into the 20th century. Many years from now when we couldn’t remember what kinds of knickers we wore as kids, you’re going to dig this up and probably watch it. Then, all the memories come flooding back. Maybe in the year 3048, some guy is going to dig this up to look at “prehistoric man” and see exactly what this generation was like- a sex-crazed, dance loving loaded pistol. but it also does make for quite the interesting movie. Plus, we all know that Scary Spice was the hottest, aside from Ginger’s… *ahem* Spiceyness.

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