In the early months of the year, the Hollywood crap parade flaunts fantasy, even in supposedly realistic settings. Britney Spears' debut as film star, Crossroads, spins a tale that has the feel of myth about it: a sort of funhouse-mirror version of Britney's rise from "humble" Lousiana origins to breakout superstar.
The golden girl's image is carefully employed to present her largely preteen audience with a string of empowering yet potentially conflicting messages: be true to yourself, honor your father and mother, separate from your parents, beware of men bearing promises, make your "first time" something "special," and so on. All this is predicated by a disappointing prom night emblematic of the youngsters' lack of positive direction. In short order, Spears and her disillusioned friends are reviving Ophelia on a mostly harmless, teen-steam, Thelma and Louise road trip.
The vehicle for this well-packaged product is a '73 Buick convertible, transporting Spears' wanderlust-stricken grad on a quest to meet her estranged birth mother (a fleeting Kim Cattrall). Along for the ride are Zoe Saldana as testy former fat-camper (and soon-to-be-bride) Kit and Taryn Manning as the pregnant Mimi, who dreams of stardom as a pop singer (hmmm...). Anson Mount's Ben is both the owner of the car and a rocker himself, though as you might imagine, he's open to backing a scantily clad pop princess. He's heading to the city of dreams for an audition, just like Mimi (though his real talent appears to be artfully maintaining his stubble).
On the journey, the film recalls numerous other films, like Spears' beloved Grease, Coyote Ugly, and even recent Mandy Moore vehicle A Walk to Remember, though that film's efforts to showcase Moore numbers pale in comparison to Crossroads several song-dance-and-belly-button showcases (including an extended tribute to Spears' heroine Madonna). The film's obsession with Brit's abs provides humorous diversion from the stupefyingly shorthand script, which rapidly frames the girls as former friends distracted from their dreams, reunites them, and sends them fleeing from Dan Aykroyd's unbelievably oblivious father. The succession of hit-and-run scenes which follows lacks any originality, suspense, or dramatic oomph of any kind. Contrivance and convenience power Ben's Buick down the highway of narrative ineptness through the inevitable upsetting challenges to the triumphant, adversity-overcoming, polished Britney "concert" presided over by smitten record executives.
Pethaps you'll enjoy the bizarre touches like the New Orleans karaoke contest that will enable young Annakin to earn the money for pod parts---wait, sorry--that will enable the foursome to repair their Buick convertible. I challenge anyone to find a contest like this, which provides the underage amateurs with a dressing room, no apparent competition, and wads of cash from which the management apparently takes no cut.
What, you ask, of Spears herself? Her performance is far from embarrassing, but she comes off as a cross between Oprah--"hosting" the social issues of the movie--and, well, Britney Spears, singing and dancing her booty off. As an acting debut, it's hardly auspicious. Perhaps Britney can expect the film career of her idol, if she's lucky.
If you're among the target audience for this film (the screening I attended evoked some loud guffaws but much more supportive cheering), nothing I say will convince you to skip the turn-on-a-dime characters and by-the-numbers plot. Instead, you'll eat up the Britney myth; as she (perpetually) sings, she's "not a girl...not yet a woman." She's definitely a girl no more, but certainly not yet a movie star, either.