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MOVIE REVIEW

'Spice World' Turns Out to Be a Hard Day's Viewing

January 23, 1998|DAVID KRONKE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Sometimes the zeitgeist counts for squat. The inexplicable rise of British pop sensation the Spice Girls says nothing about society except that there exists a vocal batch of preteen-mentality kids who don't realize they're really fans of the Archies, only minus the cartoon boys. Spicemania ostensibly celebrates "Girl Power," a form of female self-empowerment based upon the conceptual architecture of earning gobs of money by dressing up as random, ill-defined bimbo archetypes.

Naturally, those responsible for the phenomenon knew enough to strike while the iron was hot and slapped together a movie. Unfortunately, they forgot to factor in post-production time (not that it helped; on a technical level, the film just barely achieves competency) and missed the chance to cash in while Spice Worship was at full-throttle. The inevitable result is "Spice World," a movie about four months too late to endure in the pop-culture annals and about four stars too short to be a four-star movie.

One amusing credit in the film reads "Based on an Idea by the Spice Girls and [screenwriter] Kim Fuller." Apart from maybe, "Hey, let's do a movie," it's difficult to imagine what that "idea" may have been. As it peripatetically follows a few days in the life of Les Femmes d'Spice, the film is loosely inspired by the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night," yet is more closely reminiscent of the lamentable vehicle for flash-in-the-pan Vanilla Ice, "Cool as Ice." (The other amusing credit? "Choreographer.")

So basically, the order of the day is a handful of not-quite-mirth-inducing skits that tend to peter out rather than end--many not even featuring the fab femmes. Even my 7-year-old stepdaughter, who loves the group, saw through the folly of padding the movie with pointless bits featuring a hapless documentarian, some crass filmmakers, a tabloid editor who wants to bring the girls crashing down (as if, after this, they'll need help) and occasional appearances by Roger Moore as an inscrutable "Chief" spouting such insipid aphorisms as, "Without something, there is nothing."

The girls banter (Geri Halliwell, or Ginger Spice, is posited as the smart one--let's just say she's no John Lennon), pillow-fight, poke fun at their mediagenic image and play dress-up. They ride around in a mod double-decker bus cribbed from the wacky flat the Beatles shared in "Help!" As screen presences, the young women are engaging in the way someone trying to perk up what she realizes to be an earnest PBS documentary might be, but they lack the frenzied, in-your-face zaniness that might sweep you up despite the weak material. And it's hard to tell whether Victoria Adams, a.k.a. Posh Spice, looks bored throughout the movie because that's how her character is supposed to act or because she really is (should the latter be true, she immediately has the audience's empathy).

Among the rest of the just-collecting-a-paycheck cast, special pity must be accorded Richard E. Grant, a respected thespian trying really hard--probably too hard--in the thankless role of the group's apoplectic manager. Appearances by Elton John, Elvis Costello, Bob Hoskins, George Wendt, "Absolutely Fabulous' " Jennifer Saunders, Kid in the Hall Mark McKinney, Meat Loaf and Jools Holland won't impress Spice fans--who don't care who these people are--or the parents forced to sit through this. To paraphrase the Spice hit "Wannabe," what you'll want--what you'll really, really want--is your money and your 93 minutes back.

* MPAA rating: PG, for some vulgarity, brief nudity and language. Times guidelines: Semi-nude male backsides and every darn inch of Adams' legs are in view, but as far as pop-music rebelliousness is concerned, this is nonthreatening stuff.

'Spice World'

Melanie Brown, Emma Bunton, Melanie Chisholm, Geri Halliwell, Victoria Adams: Spice Girls

Richard E. Grant: Clifford

Roger Moore: Chief

George Wendt: Film producer

Bob Geldof, Bob Hoskins, Elton John, Elvis Costello: As Themselves

Columbia Pictures presents a Spice Girls/Fragile Films Production, in association with Icon Entertainment International and PolyGram Filmed Entertainment. Director Bob Spiers. Producer Uri Fruchtmann and Barnaby Thompson. Screenwriter Kim Fuller. Director of photography Clive Tickner. Production designer Grenville Horner. Editor Andrea MacArthur. Costume designer Kate Carin. Music Paul Hardcastle. Running time: 93 minutes.

*

* In general release.

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