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The Spice Girls mix up a bland big-screen debut with "Spice World."

By Coury Turczyn

FEBRUARY 2, 1998:  With every fiber of my being, I want to love the Spice Girls.

I want to frolic with delirious abandon as their Spice tunes chime in my ears, filling me with the virtues of Girl Power. I wish to be subsumed by their very Spice essence—to not merely listen to the sugary confections of their hit singles, but to live them. Yes, I'd like nothing more than to buy into the whole candy-coated, mini-skirted dream that is the Spice Girls. Life would be so much simpler, so much happier.

But I can't. I can't because I'm a miserable bastard who is incapable of forgetting for a moment that the Spice Girls—as musicians or even as entertainers—don't have one iota of actual talent. If I could only delete this fact from my brain, then perhaps I, too, could finally join the masses of blissful Spice followers. Why am I so cruelly immune to their global allure? Even Nelson Mandela, esteemed figure of world history, has cited his meeting with the Spice Girls as being the most important event in his entire life. (Yes, the downfall of apartheid is but a distant second to getting a squeeze from Baby Spice.)

I was really hoping that Spiceworld would turn things around for me. I wanted to join the party; everybody seems to be having so much fun. I had tried before, watching their videos in the early stages of their career (a few months ago), and was mildly entertained. They were pretty much just like any other MTV music celebrity: Record label constructs propped up by producers and managers, mannequins who fulfill our need to see someone mouth those dumb lyrics and look cool. There's nothing shameful about that, and they were pretty good at it, too. But then came the mass adulation from every corner of the earth as all nations united in declaring their allegiance to the Spice Girls. They quickly became more than just a silly pop group—they are now international icons with their own marketed philosophies and product lines.

Personally, whenever an entertainer takes on the mantle of pop deity, I sort of expect them to back it up with an identifiable talent—or maybe even just a point of view. Michael Jackson, for instance, may be a musically-spent, self-obsessed, pathetic boob addicted to plastic surgery—but, geez, at least he's interesting to read about. The Spice Girls, on the other hand, don't actually do anything. They dance to catchy tunes that somebody put together for them...and that's about it—though they do pose for photos quite a bit and often yell out "Girl Power!" (which mostly means being free to wear tight clothing and not put up with icky boyfriends). For this we've given them the world?

Unfortunately, Spiceworld doesn't do much to expand the young women's horizons; it's 90 minutes of pure nothingness aching to be A Hard Day's Night. It mostly leaves you wondering: With their kind of money, couldn't they afford somebody who could do it right?

Apparently, they decided to save their cash. Spiceworld has no actual plot to impart—it's mostly a series of scenes in which the girls gab, sing, travel, and occasionally tell jokes as they prepare for their big show at Royal Albert Hall. Not much really happens, and the comic interplay that's supposed to give us something to latch onto is nearly nonexistent—the girls are barely able to talk to each other let alone exhibit any sort of real camaraderie or chemistry. As for conflict (you know, that device most movies revolve around), there is none, save one scene in which their manager (Richard E. Grant) yells at them after they almost drown two small girls in a boating accident. Consequently, they threaten to disband in order to "fight for their freedom!" (Er, freedom to drown small girls?)

Sometimes, however, the script does show gleanings of content, when feeble attempts are made at mocking the group's own fame: A newspaper editor tries to spur a media backlash against them so he'll have some new headlines; they wonder why people stereotype them (the answer: because they are stereotypes!); they trade outfits and mock each other. But fans who were hoping for a look at the real Spice Girls—with biographical scenes, maybe—will be disappointed. The only moment that refers to their pre-Spice dominion is when Ginger Spice wistfully recalls the old days when they were only worried about "finding their next meal." Boy, being an 18-year-old member of the English middle-class must have been rough.

None of this is offensively bad, just tremendously dull—imagine a four-minute video stretched to an hour-and-a-half. They may have acquired the Hard Day's Nighta formula (which is a pretty darn simple one, really), but they don't have the wit and soul to pull it off. Part of the pleasure of watching the Beatles romp around was that once you peeled back their layers of zaniness, you discovered true talent, true personalities, and true (dare I say it) pop genius. But once you peel back the layers of the Spice Girls, you find...a deep, deep vacuum. Sadly, their personalities are only clothes-deep; if it weren't for their outfits, you wouldn't be able to tell them apart.

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