The Spice Girls make it through Spice World (Columbia) unscathed, but the same can't be said for the rest of the cast, a motley lineup of '80s "names" for whom this shabbily filmed, thoroughly harmless piece of Official Product represents the ultimate in career purgatory. Look there's Meat Loaf, anonymous as the girls' bus driver! Hey, that's Roger Moore as the mysterious "Chief," mouthing Zen nonsense and clutching a baby pig! Wow, there's Elton John practically running through scenes with a raincoat over his head! Bob Hoskins! Elvis Costello! George Wendt?
And, saddest of all, there's Richard E. Grant, once the caustic star of 1987's Withnail & I, now reduced to playing the Spice Girls' nervous-nellie manager. Grant bugs out his eyes, sneers in eight directions at once, and verbally eviscerates anyone who comes close, all to no avail; at the end, he still has to pump his fist and shriek for Sporty, Scary, Ginger, Baby, and Posh with all the 11-year-old girls.
Of course, those girls and the hormone-addled boys who make up the Spice Girls' other audience won't cry for Grant, since they'll have no idea who he is. And most of them won't care that Spice World rips off A Hard Day's Night five ways from Sunday, since their only memory of the Beatles classic is as that boring black-and-white video Dad tried to get them to watch. To an adult, though, the cloning's remarkable: You have Grant in the Victor Spinetti role, a sassy press conference, a boring PR party, wacky shared living arrangements (wait, that's Help!), a will-they-make-it-to-the-gig cliff-hanger, and, inevitably, the hits shoehorned in wherever possible.
Well, A Hard Day's Night also had a deceptively tight script instead of the bundle of farcical loose ends here. And it matters that the Fab Four were an organic, creative group that was only then marketed like cheese in a can. But all claims of originality aside, the Spices themselves come off as likable types. Spice World quickly establishes the personae Baby's the naif, Posh is the clotheshorse, Scary's the party girl, Ginger's the brain (in this context only, mind you), and Sporty's, er, sporty and amiably underscores a girl-power camaraderie that's shallow, bogus (the flashback to the girls as down-and-out chums is strictly a publicist's fantasy), and awfully hard to resist. Ultimately, Spice World's real analogue isn't A Hard Day's Night but the cruddy, engagingly lightweight cash-ins that followed, from Freddie and the Dreamers' Seaside Swingers all the way to The Monkees on TV. None of those, however, ended with the band rallying around the hospital bed of a buddy giving birth. That's kitsch, sure, but it's progress. C
[BOX] Spice World STARRING The Spice Girls Richard E. Grant RATED PG 93 MINUTES