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Memphis Flyer Cartoon Planet

By Jim Hanas

FEBRUARY 2, 1998:  The trick to reviewing Spice World seems to be deciding which movie to unfavorably compare it to. A Hard Day’s Night? Help? Head?

Well, how about The Great Rock ’n Roll Swindle? The 1980 Julian Temple documentary chronicled the rise and the fall of the Sex Pistols, the only pre-fab band ever to attain hipness with people over 12. It features a lot of documentary footage, boasts from band manager Malcolm McClaren on how he managed to bilk both the major labels and the public, and contrived footage of Sid Vicious in his underwear. Of contrived footage light on clothing, Spice World, naturally, has plenty. But there are also shades of boasting; the entire movie hints at the Girls’ lack of substance, as almost everyone in it seems to wonder why, then, they’re so damn popular.

As for the plot, it wouldn’t sustain a video game, despite the fact that it inevitably will. Baby, Scary, Posh, Ginger, and Sporty need to make it to their first live gig at Albert Hall against the obstacles thrown in their way by a tabloid publisher (Barry Humphries), who figures the only thing that can sell more papers than the group’s meteoric rise is its precipitous fall. Along the way, they are visited by starry-eyed aliens, plagued by an extra-malicious paparazzo (Richard O’Brien of Rocky Horror fame), and they revive a pre-adolescent coma victim with the mere mention of Ginger’s well-publicized bosom.

Not that Spice World doesn’t offer up some food for thought. Will George Wendt (who plays a movie mogul, pitching the very movie you’re watching, har-har) ever get a decent job, for example? And what with all the cameos from people you thought would know better: Bob Hoskins, Bob Geldof, Elvis Costello, and Ab Fab’s Jennifer Saunders. Clearly there’s a high-pitched note of kitschy chic in all of this that only British ears can hear.

The point of the movie (aside from making money, but I’ll get to that), however, seems to be captured in the person of a documentary filmmaker (Kevin Allen) who dogs the group in search of the “real” Spice Girls. “I want to break through the show-business side,” he tells his crew. “I want to crash right through it.” He doesn’t, of course, and his documentary turns out ruined. Because, when you crash right through the “show-business side,” there are no Spice Girls.

Which is exactly what McClaren threw in the public’s face with the Sex Pistols’ Swindle movie. There’s nothing to it but a scam. It might appear unseemly to compare the plastic puff of the Spices to the professed anarchy of the Pistols, but really they’re just flip-sides of each other. The Pistols were invented to combat the plastic puff of glam, while the Spice Girls turn it around on the truth-in-flannel posturing of post-grunge. If one of them would just murder their girlfriend in a filthy New York hotel room, we’d be onto something.

And as swindles go, Spice World wins by a mile. McClaren didn’t confess until after the fact, while the pre-fab five have done it at the height of their fame. The difference is the $11 million gross of Spice World’s opening weekend. By that standard – which beats tainting actual aesthetic views by putting them within 10 pages of the tartish quintet – McClaren has reason to be jealous. – Jim Hanas

One can only wonder why Peter O’Toole accepted a part in Phantoms. Perhaps he needed the money. Or maybe he committed some small crime and this is his community service. Or maybe, just maybe, he wanted the challenge of playing a professor cum tabloid scribe who gets to jump around in a space suit.

Whatever the reason, Phantoms is certainly not O’Toole’s finest hour. Based on a novel by Dean Koontz, who also wrote the screenplay, Phantoms is set a small Colorado town, where two sisters Lisa (Rose McGowan) and Jenny (Joanna Going) are headed. When they arrive at Jenny’s house, they discover that Jenny’s housekeeper is dead. They pick up the phone; it’s dead. When they tear out of the house, they discover that the car engine is dead. And when they make their way to the police station, they find that the sheriff is also dead.

As the women continue to tour the town (the couple at the bakery are dead), they finally come upon three men who are alive: Sheriff Bryce (Ben Affleck) and two of his deputies. So now all five of them poke around (more dead bodies) until they find a clue. On a mirror is scrawled “Timothy Flyte, the Ancient Enemy.” Timothy Flyte (O’Toole) turns out to be a washed-up professor who has turned to writing for The Weekly World News after he was drummed out of academia for his screwy theories regarding what he calls “the Ancient Enemy,” an underground mutating blob that emerges every few decades or so to feed. Because of Flyte’s expertise on the subject, he is rounded up by the FBI and taken to the town to aid them in destroying it.

The action in Phantoms is strictly B-movie material. The women clutch each other while this unknown force shows itself as a giant butterfly or a dog with a pulsating back. The FBI agents foolishly risk their lives by looking down in sink drains and sewers (didn’t Flyte tell them this thing is underground?). There’s hardly any suspense here, because the Ancient Enemy always attacks and there’s really no question who’s going to get it.

In the end, though, Phantoms does get the last laugh – it got my $4. – Susan Ellis

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