Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 10, 2007)
In a year packed with successful reunion tours, none shocked me more than the return of the Spice Girls. Not only did it seem unlikely the Nineties phenoms would ever come back together, but also I thought that even if they did so, no one would care. I imagined that a 2007 edition of the Girls would be greeted with incredible indifference.
I was wrong. Boy, was I wrong! Rather than tank at the box office as I expected, the Spice Girls’ 2007-08 reunion tour has turned into a real success. One London concert turned into 17, one New York-area show became six, and they added many other dates in multiple places as well. A tour I figured would be a quick blip on the pop culture horizon has turned into a true phenomenon.
And I remain stunned by the success. Look, I understand the audience for acts like the Police and the David Lee Roth-fronted Van Halen. They appeal to people like me, 30-or-40-something folks who grew up with the bands and now have the wherewithal to spring for their pricey tickets. Plus, the fact those bands have been gone so long – and their prospects of reunion seemed so slim – that these tours turned into true events.
But the Spice Girls? It seemed to me that in the years since their break-up around 2001, they turned into a punchline, an example of Nineties goofiness. I didn’t sense that people looked back on the Spice Girls and fondly reminisced about the glory days of 1997. Instead, I had a bigger impression that folks viewed the group as disposable pop that now embarrassed them.
Apparently not. Not only has the tour sold well, but also it’s done so with pricey tickets. It’s not like they’re selling out shows because all the seats are $10. The average ticket runs around $100, and they’re playing big arenas, so great deals of money are being generated by these shows.
I can tell you one person who’s buying tickets: me. Once upon a time, I loathed the Spice Girls with a passion, but that eventually changed. I saw them live and did a 180, which meant I quickly embraced them wholeheartedly. No, I can’t claim I’ve maintained that passion over the last decade, but I maintain a very soft spot for the Spice Girls, and this reunion has me very excited.
To tie in with all the renewed Spice attention, we get this new DVD for 1998’s Spice World feature film. I actually saw the movie back when I hated them and then again after I came to love them. While the film impressed me to a certain degree when I disliked the Girls, it clearly works a lot better if you like them. I certainly derive much more pleasure from the movie now than I would if I wasn't so in the bag for Spice Girls. As such, I probably can't be terribly objective about it, so I'll try to give two reviews of it: one that focuses on my initial impressions in my Spice-hating days, and one that discusses my more adoring feelings.
My original semi-positive thoughts about the movie mainly revolved around the fact I found it much more enjoyable than I expected. That doesn't mean I thought it was great - or even good - but since I anticipated a stinker of epic proportions, "half-decent" was quite a victory for the movie.
In general, I didn't think it was too funny, but I liked the way that Spice Girls were willing to make fun of themselves and the whole hullabaloo that surrounded them. I expected it to me a completely artificial puff piece that displayed absolutely no life or wit, and that wasn't the case. Could the Spice Girls act? Not really, but they acquitted themselves adequately, especially Victoria, who really came across quite well. She was the only one I thought had the talent to pursue an acting career. All in all, Spice World wasn't much of a movie, but it was pretty okay.
Now, of course, I absolutely adore it. Most of that change of heart comes from the 180-degree turn my opinion of Spice Girls took after I saw them live. If you don't find them to be charming and entertaining, then this film won't do too much to change your mind. If you already love them, however, you'll find much in which you can delight.
The girls essentially play caricatures of themselves, and all do so adequately, although Mel C tends to fade into the background too much and Mel B tries too hard to do her whole "scary" thing. Both Emma and Geri come across well, and as I already noted, Victoria's terrific. She plays her role as superficial snob with relish and abandon, and she makes a fine impression.
Maybe I'm just too sensitive, but I really think that most of the people who slammed Spice World never saw it. It and Spice Girls were such an easy target. Of course they're going to win "Razzies" or whatever negative awards as "worst actresses"; such decisions were made before the film ever came out. I still feel that many people attacked the film simply because they're supposed to do so. I can't imagine I was the only person who went in expecting trash but came away with some respect.
Unfortunately, the film was assaulted with much more malice than was - or is - due. The movie purported to be a fun romp through a fictionalized week in the life of Spice Girls, nothing more, nothing less, and that's what it is. Maybe those attached to the movie riled people because they made frequent references to A Hard Day’s Night - ironically, a film that altered the opinions of many Beatle-haters in 1964 as Spice World affected me. However, no one ever said Spice World was better than or as good as A Hard Day's Night; it simply followed a similar structural and plot path.
Actually, both movies have nearly identical plots, in that virtually none exists. Oh, there are some subplots, but there's no actual overriding story in place. The entire movie essentially consists of a bunch of semi-related skits and the too occasional musical performance.
And that's perfectly okay. Spice World trots along at a decent pace as it posits the Girls in situations of varying degrees of interest and humor. The group and everyone in the picture maintain a sense of spunky self-deprecation that really carries the day. Everyone knows the film is a piece of fluff and reacts as such. The movie ultimately works simply because it looks like fun and that sense comes through the screen. Hell, if a hardened cynic such as myself enjoyed it, there must be something decent going on up there.
Actually, my biggest complaint about Spice World revolves around the lack of extended musical bits. We get five song performances during the course of the film: “Too Much”, “Say You'll Be There”, “Leader of the Gang”, “Wannabe”, and “Spice Up Your Life”. The first track works worst because much of it runs under the opening credits and the sound mix is uninspired. “Spice Up Your Life” comes across tremendously well as the film's closing number since it was shot quite elaborately to mimic a climactic live performance.
The other three tracks are of most interest to Spice fanatics, however.
“Leader of the Gang” is a cover of an old Gary Glitter tune and it appears nowhere other than during the film itself. “Say You'll Be There” and “Wannabe” are quite readily available, of course, but the movie presents alternate versions of the songs - and in 5.1 sound at that! As much as I enjoy the picture itself, these are the moments to which I most frequently return.
Anyway, I thought we got too few performances, especially since the ones that do appear are so terrific. I also would have preferred less dialogue during the musical scenes; “Say You'll Be There”, “Leader of the Gang”, and “Spice Up Your Life” are all marred by some dialogue plopped into the mix. In all these cases, the music level drops for those bits, which takes away from the presentation.
Even with these minor problems, I still like Spice World an awful lot. It never takes itself seriously and provides more than enough clever and amusing moments to justify its existence. This is a brisk and entertaining piece of pop fluff.