[Screen It]

(2002) (Britney Spears, Anson Mount) (PG-13)

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Drama: A high school graduate and her estranged childhood friends travel across the country with a stranger, all hoping to find a certain form of happiness in their lives.
Lucy (BRITNEY SPEARS), Kit (ZOË SALDANA), and Mimi (TARYN MANNING) were once close childhood friends, but have since drifted apart, and are barely able to be civil to one another. Lucy is their class' valedictorian who thinks she missed out on social aspects of her high school life and wants to know more about her mother, Caroline (KIM CATTRALL), who left her and her hardworking father, Pete (DAN AYKROYD), long ago.

Mimi, on the other hand, is self-proclaimed trailer trash who's now found herself pregnant, while Kit is a popular but self-absorbed girl who wants nothing to do with the other two. Despite that, and after Lucy aborts losing her virginity with her lab partner, Henry (JUSTIN LONG), on graduation night, the three meet out in a field where they buried a box containing their dreams back when they were ten.

Its contents bring back fond memories and partially reunite the girls, but Mimi then announces that she's headed out to L.A. to audition for a singing contract. Lucy and Kit think that's a bad idea - particularly in her pregnant state - but nevertheless decide to go with her so that Kit can see her fiancée and Lucy can be dropped off in Arizona to track down her estranged mom.

They're getting a ride from Ben (ANSON MOUNT), a mysterious hunk whom Kit and Mimi have heard reportedly spent time in prison for murdering someone. From that point on, the foursome departs Georgia for California on a cross country road trip where they learn about each other and themselves, become fast friends once again, and encounter some romance and heartache along the way.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
For everyone who thinks we're recently being inundated with recording artists trying their hand at acting in movies, one must remember that the marriage between Hollywood and the recording industry has been a longstanding arrangement, although with various, different partners.

Ever since Al Jolson consummated the union back in 1927 by appearing in "The Jazz Singer," the likes of Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Barbara Streisand, Louis Armstrong, Elvis Presley, Frankie Avalon, Pat Boone, David Bowie, Bette Midler, Willie Nelson, Cher, Kris Kristofferson, Olivia Newton-John, and Dolly Parton - among many, many others -- have appeared on the big screen. Some were successful and still continue to be, while others failed after one or just a few attempts.

While the frequency of such occurrences probably isn't any greater of recent than in the past, it certainly seems like it is. With the advent of MTV and music videos, all sorts of people in front of and behind the camera have apparently decided that they if they can make and/or appear in a 3-minute video, they can certainly do the same regarding a feature length film.

That's obviously a faulty theory for various reasons, and the jury is still out on whether the likes of Mandy Moore, Mariah Carey and Jewel will make it, while other music video veterans such as Sting, Madonna, Prince, LL Cool J and Snoop Dogg have had mixed to poor results.

Now, pop icon Britney Spears has thrown her hat, and occasionally much of her clothing or lack thereof, into the ring in her acting debut in "Crossroads." Abiding by the thought that performers should play to their strengths and not stretch too far in their first such outing, Spears - who's idolized by young girls and lusted after by their brothers and boyfriends thanks to her songs and videos for "Oops, I Did It Again" and "Baby One More Time" - plays a cute and curvaceous teenager who's looking to grow up and sow her wild oats after graduating from high school, and belts out a few tunes in the process.

To avoid any confusion, I must point out that this isn't a remake of the 1942 William Powell and Hedy Lamarr film, or the 1986 picture that conversely had actor Ralph Macchio trying to be blues musician, but rather is just an adolescent "road trip" movie of a different genre and nature.

This one is a "coming of age" drama - somewhat akin to the 1995 Drew Barrymore film "Boys On the Side" - but not a very good one at that. Suffering from poor writing, direction and yes, even acting on the part of Miss Spears - although she occasionally shows glimmers of some potential - the film is a lackluster melodrama and vanity project for the young starlet.

Written by Shonda Rhimes (HBO's "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge") and directed by Tamra Davis ("Half Baked," "Best Men"), the project could have existed in some neutral form before Spears was attached to it, but it's rather obvious that it's since been specifically fashioned for her. Not only does she get to play up her usual dual identity of the sweet girl next door who can turn on the sultry vixen switch at the drop of a hat - or blouse or pants in this case - but the diary entries her character writes also just so happen to be the lyrics to the singer's real life hit song, "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman."

Accordingly, she gets to belt out that song, her cover of "I Love Rock 'N' Roll" and another during the end credits, while also singing or lip-synching to a number of other recognizable pop songs. While one can't completely fault her for playing it safe by sticking with familiar surroundings (much like Mariah Carrey did with "Glitter" and Prince did in "Purple Rain"), one can for her choosing such a lame project.

Although her diehard fans - those rapid teenage girls who were angrily telling the laughing or otherwise disrespectful viewers at our screening to "Shhhhhh!" or "Shut up!" - might overlook the film's glaring problems, most everyone else won't be able to miss them. That's even when Spears apparently tries to distract and/or titillate us by repeatedly appearing scantily clad, having the camera focus on her body, and/or seemingly being ready to lose her virginity in several scenes.

Among the problems is the lame and predictable plot filled with contrivances, clichés, inconsistencies and occasionally absurd material. Davis doesn't manage to induce or maintain any sort of momentum into the proceedings, and lets the soap opera material - the pregnant teen, the emotionally distant and estranged mother, the talk of rape, etc. - get too far out of control. In one scene, after her friend discovers her boyfriend is cheating on her, the pregnant teen -- who was raped by that boyfriend -- takes a tumble down a flight of stairs after apparently tripping on all of the melodrama that was piling up.

The characters are straight out of a teen soap, with their motivation and behavior never being believable or consistent. That's particularly true regarding the three former childhood friends agreeing to go on a road trip across the country - with a hunky guy who could be a past murderer - when they haven't gotten along with each other for years and can barely be civil.

As those three friends, Spears, Zoë Saldana ("Get Over It," "Center Stage") and Taryn Manning ("crazy/beautiful") deliver mediocre performances, no doubt hurt by their characters being bland caricatures of real teens. Spears simply needs to take some acting lessons if she wants to continue pursuing this career as her music video background obviously hasn't prepared her to handle the film's heavy or emotional scenes in a convincing fashion.

Faring the best is Anson Mount ("Urban Legends: Final Cut," "Boiler Room") as the "mysterious" hunk who drives them across the country, becomes fed up with all of the girl-related issues, and ultimately falls for Spears' character. Looking like a younger brother of Jim Caviezel ("The Count of Monte Cristo," "Angel Eyes"), Mount delivers a decent performance and most of the film's sparse, amusing moments. Meanwhile, Dan Aykroyd ("The Curse of the Jade Scorpion," "Pearl Harbor") and Kim Cattrall ("15 Minutes," HBO's "Sex and the City") appear as the protagonist's long-separated parents.

Simply put, if you love Britney - either as a pop sensation, sex symbol or both - you'll probably find the film - or parts of it - to your liking. For those who don't and/or worry about the singer's status as a role model for kids, this film is apt to be a big but probably not surprising disappointment. Yet another example of a vanity project and the old "Don't quit your day job just yet" saying, "Crossroads" rates as a 2 out of 10.

Reviewed February 12, 2002 / Posted February 15, 2002

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