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Ten Arms to Hold You

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. That millions of dollars in multinational corporate profits hang in the balance. 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. A lie.

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 -- niceties such as plot, dialogue, and technique -- matter little to 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 such lowered expectations that the film's very release almost guarantees attendance. For the critic the prospect of such a disinterested audience presents something of a conundrum: Why expect much from what others expect so little? Why trash trash?

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 epiphany deserves to be insulted anyway. For the film to do so would have required the kind of planetary realignment that, sadly, is beyond the power of both filmmakers and critics (though some of them might argue otherwise). It is an altogether different set of questions, then, that the vigilant critic must address. Specifically: Will I laugh at least once? How about twice? How do their clothes look? And do they ever take said clothes off? Is there maybe even like a lone errant nipple hiding in some performance sequence?

In order, then: yes, maybe, cheap, no, no.
For Spice World to succeed as passable kitsch, it needed to do a few things. First, the Spice Girls needed to play themselves, and 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 story line, 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 (1964). 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 = bus driver. Girls go to meet-and-greet. More Spice bus high jinks. Media buffoons everywhere. Girls go to Italy to appear on TV show. Girls go to "dance camp" to prepare for show. Alien encounter. Spice bus frivolity continues. In display of spontaneity, girls stop bus and hop on motorboat with two young fans. Accidental swimming party ensues.

Manager flips out. Has been driving girls too hard. 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 junior is delivered. Manager freaking. Show approaching. Junior not coming. Tension. Suspense.

Junior comes. Show starts like now. Hurry. Spice bus barrels across London. Concert audience getting restless. Manager at wits' 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, George Wendt, 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 miniskirted ass: good jokes. Something to keep you awake between the song-and-dance numbers. There are maybe two laugh-out-loud lines in the whole movie and maybe two decent over-the-top farcical moments. The rest will make you cringe -- a string of forced one-liners, the clunky delivery of which is scarcely funnier than the lines themselves. 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.
Written by Kim Fuller. Directed by Bob Spiers. Starring the Spice Girls.

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Keven McAlester

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