Youth must be served and the press, when assigned, must needs attend. The audience for the press screening of Spice World, held at the ungodly hour of 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning, seemed to be comprised of equal parts eight-year-old girls and twenty-something gay males. 'I can't believe I'm here!' squealed one little moppet, skipping down the aisle. I'm sure she wasn't disappointed, as both girls and boys leaned intently forward in their seats for the film's duration, as if unwilling to miss a single bouncy lyric, seductive shimmy or pair of really big shoes.

Actually, the movie wasn't as painful an experience as one might expect. It starts well, with the five mega-successful vixens being introduced as they writhe seductively to their song, 'Too Much.' Through endlessly repetitive shtick, we come to know each of them. Once and for all, then, they are Geri (Ginger Spice, the mouthy one), Emma (Baby Spice, the really cutesy one), Mel C (Sporty Spice, the athletic one with the really Bad British Teeth), Victoria (Posh Spice, the prissy clotheshorse) and Mel B (Scary Spice, the non-white one). Kill me for this, but, apart from the omnipresent 'Wannabe,' like a goodly part of the globe, I rather like their music. It's a fun, tuneful mix of Latin, hiphop, R&B and camp with, as Stephen Fry in the cameo role of a judge here so hilariously puts it, 'a kickin', phat bass line,' irresistible enough to put the undemanding into a real party mood. The girls' raft of hits all sound terrific in crisp Dolby.

Other sounds are to be heard as well-the less successful, scripted ones. Kim Fuller's screenplay is a rather desperate, free-for-all affair, fitfully amusing as well as groan-inducing. The wisp of a plot concerns the Spice Girls' almost not making it to a live concert, televised worldwide, due to the villainous machinations of a lot of evil, jealous media mavens. It s relentlessly glossy in its depiction of the five heroines as girls who just wanna have good, clean fun. For all their lack of a romantic or sexual life, they might just as well be a quintet of gay men in a 'daring' Hollywood commercial effort. Boys seem to be pretty yucky in Spice World (which may account for part of their extraordinary prepubescent appeal): sniveling, horny slobs, all out for themselves and completely useless in a crisis. No, these kids' idea of a good time has far more to do with shopping, exercise, goodnaturedly ribbing each other, helping an unfamous friend (Naoko Mori) deliver her baby, playing tricks on their bossy manager (a tiresomely hyperintense Richard E. Grant) and, of course, shopping. The girls' individuality is expressed primarily through their ensembles and it's truly amazing how even the most expensive designer garment, upon immediate contact with their bodies, is instantaneously rendered tacky. Pure silk looks like polyester on them, a Missoni weave becomes Oshkosh B'gosh. They glorify Mall Fashion in a way to delight the heart of any pre-teen with an allowance.

The film might have been an intriguing, more realistic examination of exactly how the five came together and rocketed to such overweening success, but, of course, that might have gotten in the way of the endless press conferences, personal appearances, parties and paparazzo-dodging which supposedly take up all 24 hours of their days. Director Bob Spiers, late of 'Absolutely Fabulous,' brings a similarly minded stylized sense of the wacky to the proceedings (using many actors familiar from the comedy series: Mori, Jennifer Saunders, Cathy Shipton) that, for the most part, works. There's a host of cameo appearances by even more famous faces: Bob Hoskins, Bob Geldof, Elvis Costello, Meat Loaf and that now-ubiquitous gnome, Elton John. As an all-powerful entertainment mogul, Roger Moore sends up his Bond image yet again, stroking a variety of small animals while incessantly spouting inane platitudes ('When the speeding melon hits the wall, it's Christmas for the crows'). These are initially funny, but become less so by the tenth go-round. Barry Humphries shucks his Dame Edna Everage drag for a rather terrifyingly expectorative turn as a Rupert Murdoch type. Alan Cumming, George Wendt and Mark McKinney flail about as careerists eager to capitalize on Spice-mania.

--David Noh