Spice World
directed by Bob Spiers
(Sony, 1997)

Love it or hate it, the Spice Girls' first star vehicle had yet to be released before it set a record: the film with the most working titles.

Most movies have one working title, some two. They exist so people involved in the project have something to call it before it's officially christened. Spice World, though, had at least seven working titles: Spice Girls, Spice Up Your Life! Five, Five Girls, Spice: The Movie, Spice Girls: The Movie and, believe it or not, It's Been a Hard 15 Minutes.

Seven working titles should have told the producers something: Spice World wasn't working.

The plot of this $25 million epic is as old as Mickey Rooney himself: let's put on a show. Or rather, a bunch of shows. The Spice Girls -- Scary, Posh, Sporty, Baby and Ginger -- are cutting a CD, shooting a video and preparing for a big concert, all while being filmed for a rock-u-mentary about -- what else -- themselves. The girls accomplish all this mostly by riding around London in a double-decker bus that's been customized to meet their mall-driven needs. Each has a sort of alcove in the bus which matches her personality, or lack thereof.

Along the way from stardom to superstardom the girls, a cheeky lot who love to show off their cheeks, cross paths with a scheming movie mogul (George Wendt), who wants to make a Spice Girls movie that sounds just as bad as the real one, and get advice from The Chief (Roger Moore), a mysterious figure who sits in a high-tech control room and pets low-tech animals while telling the group's producer/road manager, Clifford (Richard E. Grant), how to keep his girls in line.

The 93-minute vehicle offers the group time to do a dozen of its songs -- which, rumor has it, some experts can tell apart -- and wear dozens of outfits, each shorter than the last, and less tasteful.

On a more positive note, the film has occasional moments of self-realization, as when Clifford describes one of the girls' performances as "absolutely perfect without being any good." Moreover, the film's fast pace, London locations and day-in-the-life approach to its subjects have resulted in comparisons to the standard bearer of all rock 'n' roll films, A Hard Day's Night.

Unfortunately, beneath its flashy -- and fleshy -- exterior, Spice World has more in common with Night's contemporaries: Herman's Hermit's Hold On or the Dave Clark Five's Catch Us If You Can -- pale imitations of the Beatles' first flick that were hard to watch then and are now mostly challenging curios.

A Hard Day's Night was a tribute to how much you could do with a little money, a lot of talent and the breathless energy you feel when you're on the brink of a new age. Bob Spier's Spice World is proof of how little you can do with $25 million.

With Ginger's recent departure from the group, Spice World will no doubt become a snapshot of the Spice Girls circa 1997, and the next generation of 9-year-old girls will soon be caught saying, in all innocence, "Hey -- there once were five Spice Girls!" Sadly, this snapshot suffers from arrested development.

[ by Miles O'Dometer ]

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