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Britney Spears and Anson Mount embrace before one heads deeper into pop culture and the other becomes a footnote.

© 2002, Paramount
All Rights Reserved

What kind of black magic does Britney Spears weave? "Crossroads" (IMDb listing), her first starring role in a motion picture, is one strange debut. It's a frightful film, filled with bad acting, tedious direction and a screenplay that trots so many teenage rites of passage clichés that it would make Judy Blume wince, but you come out of the film with this inability to despise what you've just (barely) sat through. Take that as praise if you like, but I would only recommend "Crossroads" to the die hard Britney fan.

Lucy (Britney Spears) is a shy, lonely Georgia girl who wants to learn more about her estranged mother ("Sex And The City" vamp, Kim Cattrall, who's in the film for all of a minute) and what life is like outside of her overprotective father's (Dan Aykroyd) grasp. On the summer following her high school graduation, Lucy and her two childhood friends, the pregnant Mimi (Taryn Manning, "crazy/beautiful") and the snobby Kit (Zoe Saldana, "Center Stage") hitch a ride to the west coast with a musician (Anson Mount, "Urban Legend: Final Cut") to find out more about themselves. It is during this road trip that the longstanding hostility between the girls melts away and Lucy learns that "she's not a girl, not yet a woman."

"Crossroads" is an after school special that somehow made a wrong turn and ended up a major film release. It's absurd, by-the-numbers and labored, the three things it could've easily avoided if the screenplay by Shonda Rhimes had been tossed out and they just made it up as they went. As it is now, the film is too static to engross, and too wrapped in its simple teen issue plotting and overtly product-pitchy feel to be suitably poignant. It touches on all the 18 year-old girl subjects of importance like loss of virginity, teen pregnancy, date rape, shielding parents and whether Lucy, ya know, "touched it." Not terribly compelling themes, even for the target demo that has been down this road before (every week on "Dawson's Creek" or "Gilmore Girls"). "Crossroads" is slow and trite, not entirely interested in itself, but slags along with the ending its only goal. I can see why Britney would be interested in this material for her coming-out project, but to actually go through with it shows a dangerous lack of creative smarts for the singer.

While it's easy to pick on Britney's acting, I feel as though pummeling her performance would be wrong. Spears isn't a poor actress and her performance certainly doesn't embarrass her. It's more that Spears is limited to what she can pull off emotionally, which cripples the picture. Coming after pop singer Mandy Moore's starring role in "A Walk To Remember," Spears doesn't seem to have the same kind of range as Moore, whom I could believe in a costume drama, action film or even a Farrelly Brothers comedy. Maybe Spears could pull off action ("Ya'll come with me if you wanna live."), but her future success as an actress will only flourish if she avoids easy-to-pull-off dreck like "Crossroads."

Spears doesn't even look convincing during the musical sequences, and that's the reason she's in the film!

Providing backup to Spears are Taryn Manning, Zoe Saldana and Anson Mount as the "boy" of the film. While the quartet offer an affable back-and-forth, the screenplay curse strikes again by never adequately giving the four an adequate chance to bond. It just kinda happens because the movie needs it too. Out of everybody, Manning seems the most at ease with herself. As the pregnant teen without any direction, Manning successfully navigates the awful dialog and somehow manages to make her character as realistic as this fantasy flick will allow. It's too bad none of this good stuff rubbed off on Britney.

What hurts the most about "Crossroads" is that the picture was directed by Tamera Davis. Davis is no clunky first-timer, having already made her mark with pictures like "Gun Crazy" and the screwball classic, "Billy Madison." It boggles the mind that Davis couldn't see just how anemic the story was, or how excruciating the dialog and motivations were. While she may not be the most talented director around, Davis should at least have known better then to let this story head directly to melodrama. But Davis loses control of her own film, leaving it wide open to be laughed at (which it was, repeatedly, by the crowd of teen girls I saw this with) and to be forgotten as just another failed crossover attempt by a pop star. Shades of "Glitter" come to mind, but that would be too cruel.

"Crossroads" isn't going to be the last we see of Britney on the big screen, but I can only hope it will signal a shot that she shouldn't stick to such safe material for the next round. I'm not ready to dismiss her yet, but another turkey like this and she'll lose the respect of the core audience that got her to the top.

Filmfodder Grade: D

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