As anyone who has seen the video for Britney Spears’s “Lucky” knows, there are many sides to Britney. In the video Britney plays three versions of herself, including the na•ve little girl, the glamorous woman, and the wise observer. Alright, so maybe that last one isn’t really a version of herself. But she gets her point across: there’s more to Britney than meets the eye.
Spears’ first film, the diva-driven “Crossroads,” plays with the exact same premise as the “Lucky” video only to lead us to a not-so-startling conclusion: Spears is exactly what we thought she was — a one-dimensional teen pop star who should stay away from acting and stick to prancing around with pythons and stripper poles.
While the film delivers sparks of fun and light-hearted laughter, overall “Crossroads” is flat and apathetic, which is the exact opposite of what audiences expect from Spears. Director Tamra Davis gives us gauche realism where she should try MTV style and sparkle; when the action demands truth, Davis mistakenly plays up emotions, music, and lighting. Spears does have an “aw, shucks” honesty to her voice, but come on, who wants realism from Britney Spears?
The plot starts out fantastically enough — three best friends bury a box of wishes (actually objects that symbolize their wishes … how deep) and promise to dig it up on the eve of their high school graduation. But, judging from Spears’ pouty voice-over, some unpleasant changes are in store for the girls.
The three go their separate ways, and, interestingly enough, they all seem to be versions of Britney. One turns out to be the teen dream, the leader of the pack of popular girls. Another is a “burnout” — pregnant, forgotten, and an overall bad girl who dies her hair and pushes people into lockers. Finally, the last one is a perky, pastel-wearing valedictorian. Britney plays Lucy, the smart one, go figure.
Grudgingly, the three former friends dig up their box on the last day of high school, discovering that somehow their wishes all require them to hop into a car with some guy named Ben (Anson Mount) and drive to Los Angeles. And thus begins the quintessential American teen fantasy: the road trip.
But Davis knows she’s got another, even bigger teen fantasy up her sleeve: Britney. Davis plays the Britney card as many times as she can. The plot is really just an accessory for Spears, who is the heart, soul, and body of this film. “Crossroads” capitalizes on several Britney moments, robbed from music videos and prepubescent male daydreams. Britney dances in her underwear to Madonna, dons several midriff-bearing get-ups, straddles a pole, giggles, gossips, and sings. And yes folks, she finds that Special Someone.
Naturally, all of this is to be expected. “Crossroads” is, first and foremost, a diva movie, upholding the long and proud tradition of “Spice World” and “Glitter.” Although the film attempts to be a buddy picture, it completely focuses on Spears, and it seems to enter her boring little world of secret diaries, wishes made on stars, and friends kept forever.
“Crossroads” refuses to make fun of itself, which is largely what makes other diva movies bearable. Instead, we’re supposed to believe that the girls are actually “bonding” and “overcoming the odds” without a hint of witticism, or even sarcasm, regarding teenage girlhood or the music business.
The actors, all mildly experienced, can pull this off simply because it’s not much of a challenge. It’s the stuff of sleepover parties. Zoe Saldana learned how to play the bitchy, popular one in “Center Stage.” Her cattiness in portraying Kit often enlivens the film. Taryn Manning, who also plays to type, doesn’t manage the honesty and grittiness of her “Crazy/Beautiful” character, but she still manages to be likeable.
The love story between Lucy and Ben, on the other hand, is completely unnatural and unbelievable. At times it seems awkward to watch; kisses are stagy and words mumbled uncertainly. Mount seems completely out of place and clearly wishes he were in a Quentin Tarantino movie.
Towards the conclusion, “Crossroads” not only takes itself seriously but also attempts to become an uplifting drama. Moments of tension — such as when the car breaks down and Kit leaves her boyfriend — are poorly acted, and as the film progresses these moments seem more haphazard and random. The film strains credulity and ends in a musical number less convincing than that of “Coyote Ugly.” Trying to be reflective and thoughtful, Spears sings her song “Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman” with all the dramatic punch of an episode of “7th Heaven.”
“Crossroads” caters to Spears’s tastes, but even her fans might be disappointed with the weak acting and uninspired musical scenes. The film is largely forgettable — even appearances by Dan Akroyd and Kim Cattrell are underdeveloped and unexciting. But we get what we paid for: lots of Britney.