The fool's lament

One of the conceits to which every critic must be genetically predisposed is the idea that, at the end of the day, his or her opinion actually matters. That some unknown phantasm at a nonspecific coffee shop sits immersed in said critic's latest ill-advised screed, imbibing every word as if it were Revelation itself. That some petulant artist will rethink his or her entire aesthetic dogma on the basis of a few neatly turned phrases. In brief, that someone gives a shit. A few nagging crits might assert that their main goal is simply to express a thoughtful opinion in an articulate manner, reception be damned. Lies, lies, all lies.

Enter Spice World. Rarely has one movie seemed so predestined to reduce any and all attempted criticism to so many column inches of impotent gibberish. Here is a film for which the usual criteria for judgment--such niceties as interesting plot, dialogue, and technique--matter little to both those who made it and those who will see it. Nobody cares. One imagines that the primary goal of the filmmakers and their stars (the Spice Girls, in case you're just getting up) was simply to embarrass themselves as little as possible. And certainly anyone even considering paid admission has so lowered their expectations that the film's very release almost guarantees their attendance. For the critic, whose ease with Zion is predicated on a certain feeling of superiority and insightfulness, the prospect of such a disinterested audience presents something of a conundrum: Why expect much from what others expect so little of? Why trash trash?

Granted, such an attitude could be considered an insult to the most frail of minds, if not to decency in general. But let's face it: Anyone harboring even the slimmest of hopes that Spice World and director Bob Spiers will offer some kind of cinematic revelation--such a person deserves to be insulted anyway.

For Spice World to succeed as passable kitsch, it needed to do a few things. First, the Spice Girls needed to play themselves, as they seem to have gotten those roles down. (Check.) Second, screenwriter Kim Fuller needed to come up with a sufficiently ridiculous plot, one that doesn't take itself seriously in the least. (Check.)

The storyline, which was apparently a state-guarded secret in England, goes something like this: Opening credits. Spice Girls lip-synch on Top of the Pops. Girls express annoyance at Clifford (Richard E. Grant), overbearing-manager-type very obviously based on Norm from the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night. Girls have one week to prepare for first live gig in England. Pregnant Asian friend (Naoko Mori) is introduced. Girls drive around London in double-decker Spice bus. Meat Loaf, reprising his role from Roadie, is the bus driver. Girls go to Italy to appear on television show. Girls go to "dance camp" to prepare for show. Alien encounter. In display of spontaneity, girls stop bus and hop on motorboat with two young fans. Accidental swimming party ensues.

Manager flips out. Girls walk away. Band's end might be near. Girls accidentally convene at favorite old hangout. Girls suddenly realize they've been ignoring pregnant Asian friend for, like, the whole movie. In display of anti-manager solidarity, they take pregnant Asian friend to nightclub. Pregnant Asian friend starts to get un-pregnant. Panic. Cell phones. Hospital. Quick. Girls vow to stay with friend until baby delivered. Manager freaking. Show approaching. Baby not coming. Tension. Suspense.

Baby comes. Show starts, like, now. Hurry. Spice bus barrels across London. Concert audience getting restless. Manager at wit's end. Girls are now in it to win it. Drawbridge jumped. Bus arrives at Albert Hall. Girls run up stairs. Sweet-talk police. Get inside. Put outfits on. Hit the stage. Order is restored. Show. Happy. Credits.

Bit parts: Mark McKinney (Kids in the Hall), George Wendt (Norrrrrrm!), Roger Moore, Claire Rushbrook (Secrets and Lies).

Cameos: Jools Holland and, in case you still thought some things were sacred, Elvis Costello.

To this point, it might look as though Spice World does everything it needed to. Silly plot, tongue in cheek, gratuitous celebrity sightings. But on the third, final, and most crucial requirement, the movie falls flat on its mini-skirted ass: good jokes. Something to keep you awake between the song-and-dance numbers. It'd be easy to say that Spice World can't match the achievement of its obvious model (A Hard Day's Night) because the Spice Girls lack the intelligence and talent of the Beatles, but what's really missing is the kind of writing that can overcome those problems.

In the end, even if you're looking for mindless entertainment, the film's lack of funny moments will leave you underwhelmed. Not that it will stop you from going, of course.

Spice World.
Directed by Bob Spiers. Written by Kim Fuller. Starring Baby Spice, Posh Spice, Sporty Spice, Scary Spice, Ginger Spice, and Richard E. Grant. Opens Friday.

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