Pop Culture

Do-Over Cinema: Open Up And Say "Zig-A-Zig Ah" For Spice World

"What about the bomb?" is pretty on the nose, now that we think about it.
"What about the bomb?" is pretty on the nose, now that we think about it. Columbia Pictures
The Spice Girls, those girl power purveyors of the 1990s, recently announced a "world tour" consisting of (so far) 18 dates in all-UK and Ireland venues. They'll also be going out as a foursome, as Victoria (Posh) won't be joining Mel B. (Scary), Geri (Ginger), Mel C. (Sporty), or Emma (Baby) this time around. There are sure to be more dates to follow, however, and while you're waiting to obtain your presale code and get locked out of the Ticketmaster queue after 50 minutes, why not revisit the band's sole cinematic contribution to society, 1997's Spice World?

Wait! Don't leave yet!

Spice World certainly looks like a movie designed to capitalize on the whirlwind success of the group, who just the year prior became the first British act to top the US charts with their debut album (Spice would be the biggest selling album of 1997). Even so, it would go on to gross $151 million off its $25 million dollar budget, though rewatching the movie, it's easier to see where that money *wasn't* spent. I mean, definitely not in creating authentic hospital scenes ...

click to enlarge The GOP should use this as their argument against socialized medicine. - TOTALLY PROFESSIONAL SCREEN GRAB BY PETE VONDER HAAR
The GOP should use this as their argument against socialized medicine.
Totally professional screen grab by Pete Vonder Haar
... or in representations of possible alien life ...

click to enlarge Their hands have evolved specifically to grab breasts. - COLUMBIA PICTURES
Their hands have evolved specifically to grab breasts.
... or special effects.

click to enlarge "I think it was called The Bus That Couldn't Slow Down. - COLUMBIA PICTURES
"I think it was called The Bus That Couldn't Slow Down.

Hell, the wardrobe department couldn't even afford entire pairs of pants:

Not-so-fun fact; the song they're performing above, in [finger quotes] 'Milan,' is Gary Glitter's "I'm the Leader of the Gang (I Am)," and if this scene seems more abrupt than usual, it's because he'd originally filmed a cameo to appear at the end of the song. Unfortunately for Glitter's fledgling movie career, he was arrested for child pornography just before Spice World's UK release, leading to his appearance being cut. At least they didn't have to explain what the hell Gary Glitter was doing in Milan (probably fleeing extradition).

The movie itself, which manages to be both a less charming and more coherent take on A Hard Day's Night, works only intermittently, "thanks" largely to first-time screenwriter Kim Fuller. Fuller is the brother of English mega-mogul Simon Fuller, the man responsible (culpable?) for "discovering" the Spice Girls (and creating American Idol precursor Pop Idol). The film's shaky narrative centerpole is the group's impending performance at the Royal Albert Hall, which we're to believe is in jeopardy due to managerial heavy-handedness and the imminent arrival of a baby. Not one of the Girls' offspring, but rather that of their friend Nicola (Naoko Mori), who mostly exists to be hugged and to offset the film's screaming Caucacity.

One thing you can enjoy is the interesting intersection of acting experience going on here. On one side, you've got Alan Cumming and Jason Flemyng potentially torpedoing burgeoning careers (along with a pre-Wire Dominic West in a bit part as a photographer), on the other, Roger Moore as the cryptic Chief in what many feared would be an ignominious end to a storied career (that would actually come five years later, in Boat Trip).

click to enlarge Nothing to see here, just Sir Roger Moore nursing a piglet. - COLUMBIA PICTURES
Nothing to see here, just Sir Roger Moore nursing a piglet.
In between, you have Withnail & I's Richard E. Grant, inhabiting the role of Clifford the manager with admirable gusto, George Wendt (looking for a post-Cheers landing place) and Kids in the Hall's Mark McKinney as filmmakers, and Meat Loaf, because why not. Then there are the British celebs, some of whom are lucky enough to appear as themselves (Elton John, Bob Geldof, Bob Hoskins). Less explicable are the celebrities relegated to bit parts, including AbFab's Jennifer Saunders as a Posh wannabe, Elvis Costello as a bartender, Hugh Laurie as Hercule Poirot(?), Jools Holland as the Girls' musical director, and Stephen Fry as a judge.

Now that I think abou it, that $25 million budget is starting to make more sense.

Meanwhile, other stuff happens, not all of which is terrible! Meat Loaf gets an "I won't do that" gag, while Emma somehow knows there are four Ks in "Krtkkarphillmuk." Posh's outraged "This dress is dry clean only, Melanie!" is perhaps the future Mrs. Beckham's most sincere thespian moment, and McKinney and Wendt's movie pitches to Grant are uniformly unhinged. Grant himself, clad in wondefully monochromatic suits throughout, seems to be the only one (mostly) fully committed to the venture.

click to enlarge "And I thought Hudson Hawk was as low as it could get." - COLUMBIA PICTURES
"And I thought Hudson Hawk was as low as it could get."
The movie was director Bob Spiers second feature. The first beingThat Darn Cat!, starring Christina Ricci as the lead and Doug E. Doug as the guy you just Googled. Before that, we was primarily known for British TV comedies, and that anarchic sensibility is here, tempered by the ... let's call them "performative limitations" of the main characters. Because as much as I love Spice World, I'll be the last one to argue for its merits as, you know, an actual movie.

But there's a sincerity to its artifice, if that makes any sense, and watching this 20 years after its US release reveals a lot about the world of 1998. Namely, how blissfully idiotic we were in that heady post-Cold War, pre-Clinton scandal/9/11 era. It also says a lot about our mindset in the intervening period that Spice World is the last film of its kind. There have been plenty of other manufactured pop groups in the intervening decades, but no weirdly alternate reality musical comedies based on their exploits.

And don’t look for that to change. Bands popular with Kids These Days have two distinctive characteristics: one, I haven’t heard of them; and two, they don’t need theatrical validation when Instagram and Twitter are right there. So next time your child is on YouTube, maybe cut them slack*. In today’s world of $200 concert tickets, it may be the only place they get to see their faves.

As for the Spice Girls, their movie may not be critically adored (35 percent "Fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes), but its recalled pretty fondly by those of a certain age for its breezy proto-feminism and carefree demeanor. The Spice Girls may be divided, but I like to think Spice World can still bring us together, whether in loathing or esteem.

If nothing else, can we at least appreciate Geri as Wonder Woman?

*I will not be cutting my children any slack.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar