'Crossroads' to Nowhere

Britney Spears' movie debut actually is worse than you might imagine.

The philosopher Marcus Aurelius once wrote, "There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so." Clearly, he had not seen Crossroads, a film that no amount of thinking could make good. But then, that seems fitting, since no amount of thinking has gone into the film in the first place.

Or perhaps that's not fair; I'm sure someone was thinking, "Let's have Britney Spears dance around in tight underpants as quickly as possible." And, with the same kind of magical power that God exhibits in the opening of the book of Genesis, thought was made real, as Crossroads' second scene features gratuitous panties-clad booty shaking.

Unfortunately, and unlike Britney Spears' career, Crossroads, which was directed by Tamra Davis, does not rely exclusively on partial nudity. It also has some odd need for a plot, which it spews out like a frat boy puking up his first Budweiser.

Britney plays Lucy, who, we learn immediately, is a virgin. Just like Britney. Remember how she's a virgin, even though she lives with her boyfriend? Or did she finally stop saying she was a virgin? I forget.

Though actually, that's Britney's genius, her Dadaist capacity to deny the obvious. Years ago, in reference to a video wherein she danced about in a slutted-up Catholic schoolgirl uniform, she opined, "I don't know why people think I'm trying to look sexy." Yeah, I can't imagine. More recently, she told a TV interviewer that she was going to start acting "sexy." To start acting sexy. Because she had never done that before.

Anyway, Lucy, being a virgin, believes that she has never experienced the world. Apparently, she defines the world as STDs and teenage pregnancy. In order to get a closer look at that sort of thing, she hooks up with two old friends: Mimi (Taryn Manning), the trailer park girl, who gets picked on by the popular kids; and Kit (Zoë Saldana), the most popular girl in school.

I really liked how the film broke new ground here, introducing a character who was "popular" and also one who was "not popular," and having them come together and confront their differences. What really shocked me was that, instead of finding that they had nothing in common, these two girls actually discovered that they had a lot in common, like they both had the capacity for love and friendship, and even feelings.

So anyway, Lucy and Kit and Mimi get in a car with an extremely handsome boy, Ben (Anson Mount), and head west from their home in Mississippi.

Kit wants to hook up with her boyfriend in L.A.; Mimi wants to audition for a record label in Hollywood; Lucy wants to find her mother, whom she believes is living in Tucson (don't get excited: the Tucson scenes were filmed somewhere in the Mojave desert); and the handsome boy wants what all boys want. Luckily, with Britney in the car seat next to him, he also happens to be within several inches of what all boys want, so things look pretty good for him.

Things don't look so good for the audience of this film, though. Imagine being trapped in a car with three of world's most self-involved teenage girls. Now imagine that those girls think of themselves as deep and meaningful. To explain how awful that is, let me note this: I was watching three nubile teens dance around in their underwear and have cat fights, and I was bored and wanted to leave the theater. And I'm not even gay.

But wait, things get worse--the teens are camping out in the desert, and, in an effort to show her intense teen-age depth, Britney, I mean "Lucy," starts reciting a poem. Of course, the poem is just lyrics to a Britney Spears song, so you can well imagine how powerful and moving it is. If only Shakespeare were alive to see this film, I'm sure he'd be kicking himself for not having come up with a line such as: "I am not a girl, and not yet a woman."

At this point, I felt like I was experiencing the cinematic equivalent of fat camp: I was stuck with a bevy of self-pitying teens who think their bodies are the entirety of the world, and I couldn't escape. I was praying someone would start talking loudly on a cellphone. I'm pretty sure even God would have been bored watching this film. I mean, after a week of road-tripping, when Lucy asks Kit, "Doesn't it feel like we left home a million years ago?" I was so like "Yes!"

The worst part of Crossroads, though, was how cautious most of the script is. Other than the recitation of the poem, there weren't any real howlers. The acting was bad in the way teen-aged TV acting is bad, but not so bad as to be laughable, and the story was just plain dull. The only things that gave the movie any camp appeal were Dan Aykroyd's horrendous performance as the stereotypical over-protective dad, and the robotic acting of plastic surgery disaster Kim Cattrall, who plays Lucy's estranged mom.

Thus, even my low expectations of this film were not met. It was far worse than I could have imagined. It was far worse than someone with advanced panic disorder and obsessive compulsive neurosis could have imagined. Perhaps the worst thing I can say is that even Britney's fans will find this shallow.