Spice World (1998)

Review

Why don’t more non-acting bands star in fiction films as themselves? I’m serious: I would love to see Oasis in an action movie (fighting each other, natch), or a Rilo Kiley love story [Jenny Lewis has dozens of acting credits, Jesse! - Ed.], or Radiohead with a special effects budget. I’d even take a chance on a Led Zeppelin Lord of the Rings knockoff, no matter how many elves were harmed in the making of it. And isn’t A Hard Day’s Night (or even Help!) more fun than a dozen musical biopics?

It’s entirely possible that bands are scared off by the candy-colored flipside to Night‘s black-and-white beauty, Spice World. Just to clarify, that’s the Spice Girls movie, not a film about the fifteenth century spice trade. You may remember it from a variety of instant punchlines circa the turn of the last century.

But c’mon, bands, grow a pair: Spice World is OK. I’m serious! For a movie whose genesis was probably a coin-toss victory against a Spice Babies Saturday morning cartoon, Spice World is actually pretty amusing. It’s not especially different from a Saturday morning cartoon, mind you; Baby, Ginger, Sporty, Scary, and Posh are named like girly Ninja Turtles, though at least you can tell them apart semi-immediately. The movie makes the girls’ collective vapidity charming in a noisy, childlike sort of way. Whether or not charming vapidity does the trick for 90 minutes probably depends largely on whether you are a child under twelve and/or how many cable stations you get.

Anyway, Spice World is unlikely to cause permanent brain damage; I’ve seen it two or three times and I can’t tell you much about what happens in it, except that the girls ride around in a bus driven by Meat Loaf, have a pregnant pal who goes into labor at some point, and perform hits from their first two albums (the second of which is technically the film’s soundtrack); and that the movie pretty quickly devolves into Spice-themed sketch comedy. The girls impersonate each other, imagine each other as elderly, and encounter aliens; no wonder they don’t have time to write songs or learn how to play instruments.

Oddly, or maybe fittingly, it’s the real actors who wind up looking awkward in the world of Spice: Mark McKinney and George Wendt are stuck in a tabloid-reporter subplot, a tedious sitcom without the surrealism of cartoon life in a fake band. Despite the truly strange number of famous Brits willing to cooperate — you could make a fun game of matching Elvis Costello, Roger Moore, Hugh Laurie, Bob Hoskins, and Stephen Fry with the individual Spice Girl crushes that must’ve enticed them to appear, even if it’s just as likely they were chummy with veteran British TV director Bob Spiers — the movie can’t really sustain itself. Even an excitable slumber party might tire out halfway through.

But as a diversion and a weird novelty, Spice World is cute and endearingly chintzy, especially the way its special-est effect is a cutaway to a homemade model of a bus making a big jump. Scoff if you must, but I defy the Backstreet Boys to make a movie this passable — and I implore real bands to give it a try.

Aka Spiceworld, Spice World: The Movie.