THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


There's no doubt that Crossroads is an ego-driven vehicle for Britney Spears: within the first eight minutes, there are two gratuitous shots of the teen popster in her underwear. Isn't there something disturbing about a young exhibitionist who is idolized by millions of little girls? Those who find Spears a bad role model will doubtlessly find her movie debut an occasion to be offended. Here's a story that features date rape, a miscarriage, a discussion of what it's like to touch a penis, and a scene in which Spears attempts to lose her virginity (in a later scene, she actually succeeds). Pretty appalling stuff to be selling to kids, but even more appalling is the fact that Crossroads is just plain bad. Ever seen a movie so inept that you forgot it the second it was over? This is that kind of picture.

Zoe Saldana, Taryn Manning, and Britney Spears go on a road trip of self-discovery in Crossroads
Spears plays Lucy, the supposedly prim and proper valedictorian (stop snickering!) of her high school. Nevertheless, she spends prom night trying to have sex with her lab partner. After deciding she can't go through with it, Lucy sets off on a road trip of self discovery with her two best friends. Kit (Zoe Saldana) is engaged to a college freshman who may be giving her the runaround, while Mimi (Taryn Manning) is pregnant after being date raped. The threesome has a vague plan to audition for a record label in Los Angeles. Lucy figures that on the way out, she can locate her long-lost mother (Kim Catrall). This idea doesn't sit well with her conservative father (Dan Aykroyd). Chauffering the girls to L.A. is a struggling musician named Ben (Anson Mount) who is rumored to have spent time in jail for killing a guy. Of course, we know he didn't really kill anybody because he's quickly set up as Britney's love interest. And love interests never kill anybody; they always have some noble reason why they just spent six months in jail.

Most movies about road trips of discovery have different events designed to teach the characters some valuable Life Lessons. Not Crossroads. Perhaps to offset some of the darker material, the movie gives us a karaoke scene in which Spears cranks out a remake of Joan Jett's "I Love Rock & Roll." There are also not one, not two, not three, but four scenes in which the characters sing along to the car radio. They sing along to Shania Twain. They sing along to Sheryl Crowe. In an apparent attempt to be clever, they even sing along to N*SYNC (Spears is, of course, dating that group's Justin Timberlake). The lessons the characters do eventually learn are pretty obvious. If you really think Lucy's mother will be glad to see her, you've never seen a movie before. And when Mimi suddenly starts teaching Kit how to throw a punch, you just know she'll have an occasion to use this knowledge by the final reel.

I kind of expected Crossroads to be a light, bubblegum picture, but it's not. In fact, it's no fun at all. It deals with weighty subject matter that seems at odds with the star's pop image. Why Britney's management team would allow her to make such a depressing movie is beyond me. The story is about miserable people who lead miserable lives. There's no real humor, and the attempts to lighten things up with music don't work. They just seem out of place in a movie that is filled with unpleasantness.

Many people are curious to know how Spears fares as an actress. It's safe to say she's no Mandy Moore. Lucy is a one-dimensional character anyway, but Spears brings no energy to the part. Maybe she thought she had something to prove by taking on the role of an unhappy teenager. Regardless of motive, she isn't able to pull it off. I won't say she's bad in the film; she's just...a nonentity. Then there's poor Dan Aykroyd, who delivers a decent performance but nevertheless looks embarrassed to be in this movie. He should be. This has to represent a low point in his career. I've always liked Aykroyd, so I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he took the part because his kids thought it would be cool to have dad in a movie with Britney Spears.

Crossroads drags on and on, to a very predictable conclusion. The finale has something to do with Britney's latest song, "Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman." We are supposed to believe that Lucy, Mimi, and Kit have grown from their difficult experiences and can now face their futures with greater confidence. It would be nice to think that problems really could be solved by traveling a thousand miles with an ex-con and a decent car radio. Anyone in the audience over the age of six is going to realize what a load of rubbish that idea is, though.

I found this movie excruciatingly slow and utterly without merit. Nothing in it interested me or made me want to pay attention. About an hour and twenty minutes in, Britney's character says: "Doesn't it seem like a million years ago since we left home?" Yes it does, Britney. Yes it does.

( out of four)

Crossroads is rated PG-13 for language and sexual content. The running time is 1 hour and 36 minutes.

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