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"FROM JUSTIN TO KELLY"
(2003) (Kelly Clarkson, Justin Guarini) (PG)

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QUICK TAKE:
Musical/Romantic Comedy: A singer and a party promoter go through the throes of early romance when they meet during spring break.
PLOT:
Kelly Taylor (KELLY CLARKSON) is a performer who usually sings to mostly empty beer halls. Accordingly, her friends Kaya (ANIKA NONI ROSE) and Alexa (KATHERINE BAILESS) want her to join them on a trip to Miami for a little spring break R&R. Although initially reluctant, she agrees to go.

Also heading there are party promoters Justin Bell (JUSTIN GUARINI) and Brandon (GREG SIFF) who've brought along their techno-geek friend Eddie (BRIAN DIETZEN) who's hoping to meet the girl of his dreams that he's only known over the Internet. Justin and Brandon, however, hope that their wild parties will allow them to hook up with some beautiful babes.

Yet, when Justin and Kelly run into each other, it's love at first sight. Unfortunately, a number of circumstances as well as Alexa's repeated attempts to sabotage the budding romance put a crimp in them getting together. As Kaya starts seeing local waiter Carlos (JASON YRIBAR) and Brandon has repeated run-ins with the local law, Officer Cutler (THERESA SAN-NICHOLAS), Justin and Kelly go through the throes of early romance.

OUR TAKE: 1 out of 10
15 minutes just aren't what they used to be. In fact, they're more. With people's lax attitude about arriving fashionably late, those 900 seconds often turn into 1,800 or 3,600. And don't even get me started on a quarter of professional football supposedly being a quarter of an hour long.

The same holds true for Andy Warhol's old statement about everyone getting that allotted amount of time in the future. Case in point are the various contestants from TV's smash hit talent show "American Idol." I can see the winners - Kelly Clarkson and Ruben Studdard - making a go of it in the music business. However, they and many others keep showing up in non-music venues. When money is involved it's not surprising that they and/or their handlers will try to milk those "fifteen minutes" as much and for as long as possible, but there comes a point when they've gone too far.

All of which brings us to this week's release of "From Justin to Kelly." Purportedly a contemporary update of those old Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon beach party musicals, the film is a shameless mess of a movie, if you can even call it that.

Sure, it has a beginning and an end, with characters, dialogue and something that's supposed to be a plot filling up space between the two. There's also plenty of dancing and singing. The problem is that none of those elements is any good. Actually, they're downright appalling. Considering that the TV show is 99% filled with untalented, aspiring singers, maybe it's not so amazing that this effort feels like the Hollywood amateur hour. Where's judge Simon Cowell when we need him to tell these people - in front of and behind the camera - that they're awful at this?

It's hard to choose where to begin the critique, so I'll just jump in with an overriding thought. Those early beach musicals weren't anything special to begin with, and thus using them as the starting point probably wasn't the wisest idea.

That is, unless one was to parody them and the fact that no one in this film can act (and most have a hard time singing). Wait a minute, maybe that's what they were really doing. Yes, this must be a spoof. Oh, I forgot, none of it's remotely funny, clever or engaging.

The plot is about as simple as one could imagine (so much the better to appease whatever's left of the "tween" demographic that cares about Clarkson and her defeated first season opponent, Justin Guarini). To make sure nobody's confused, his character's named Justin and hers, natch, is Kelly (although she oddly states that her friends call her Kelly for short. Short for what? Kellywelly, bare by belly?).

They meet in Miami on spring break and it's love at first sight (or is that recording contract). The only problem is that her best friend stabs her in the back so many times while trying to sabotage their budding relationship that this might as well have been a slasher film.

As a few other mini subplots also unfold, the two go through the throes of initial romance, all while coincidentally always running into each other time and again (who knew Miami was so small and had such few establishments).

All of that's supposed to make the target audience's hearts go pitter-patter, but it's likely to cause another body organ in everyone else to go into full regurgitation mode. If we cared about any of these characters, or if they even seemed half-human, the reaction may have been different (although there are so many other flaws that I doubt that).

Alas, but certainly not surprisingly, the characters and their stories - penned by Kim Fuller (who also brought us that other "quick before we're not famous anymore" film, "Spice World") are paper thin and the direction by Robert Iscove ("Boys and Girls," "She's All That") is listless at best and more often than not ridiculously disjointed. The various musical numbers - featuring lame to awful and overproduced pop tunes - are completely flat in terms of both song and choreography. Everything comes off as MTV cutting room floor material and lacks the slickness of "Chicago" or the infectious fun of, say, "Grease."

Clarkson and Guarini's performances are about as nuanced and credible as the various comedy interludes in which they appeared on the show (meaning they stink if you didn't have to catch those). They're accompanied by feature newcomers Anika Noni Rose and Katherine Bailess on her side and Greg Siff and Brian Dietzen on his, with the latter supposedly doing comic relief, but I've seen garden slugs that got more laughs than him.

I realize this effort wasn't intended for the likes of me or most anyone over the age of early teendom. Yet, did it really have to be this bad and painful to witness? Considering the rush to capitalize on the success of the TV show's first two seasons, I can only fret about what might be coming down the pike starring this year's two winners (maybe a Laurel and Hardy type comedy).

Although it's set over just a few days during spring break, "From Justin to Kelly" feels more like an endless summer where wave after wave of cinematic atrocities keep pounding you into the surf. It rates as just as 1 out of 10.




Reviewed June 20, 2003 / Posted June 20, 2003


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