on February 15, 2002 by Wade Major
   Britney Spears' feature film debut doesn't offer many surprises and won't sway the pop star's respective admirers and detractors one way or another. And that's nothing but good news for Paramount Pictures, who is virtually guaranteed an all but review-proof run courtesy of Spears' indefatigable young fans.

   An exceedingly derivative and formulaic road trip/coming-of-age movie, “Crossroads” is really not very good by any measure. Every character, every plot point, every line of dialogue has been swiped from any number of other movies, none of which worked any better than this one. What does work in “Crossroads” is the only thing that really needs to work, which is Spears herself. The singer's uniquely effortless charm, sanitized sexuality and cherubic, girl-next-door prettiness are showcased at every turn in a picture that, despite its flaws, manages to hand her a chance to prove herself a fairly impressive young actress as well.

   The story centers around three childhood friends--Lucy (Spears), Kit (Zoë Saldana of “Center Stage”) and Mimi (Taryn Manning of “Crazy/Beautiful”)--who have drifted apart during their teen years. As they near high school graduation, virginal valedictorian Lucy, pregnant trailer-trash Mimi and snooty debutante Kit have all but forgotten what faithful friends they once were. If not for a childhood oath to reunite all these years later to unearth a buried box of keepsakes, they wouldn't give each other the time of day. As fate would have it, however, those keepsakes stir memories and feelings that lead to the three making the rather bold move of taking a cross-country trip together, though for different reasons. Mimi wants to make it as a recording star in L.A., Kit aims to confront her elusive fiancé at UCLA while Lucy plans on reuniting with the mother who abandoned her and her father (Dan Aykroyd) some 15 years earlier. And because no Britney Spears movie would be complete without a husky young hunk to fawn over her, a token male hauffeur is thrown into the mix in the person of mysterious musician/songwriter Ben (Anson Mount) who just happens to be taking his '73 Buick convertible in their direction.

   The remainder of the film adheres strictly to the conventions of its fused genres. The girls grow close again, Lucy and Ben get even closer and the inevitable disappointment that greets all three of them down the line is diminished by the onset of renewed camaraderie and hope for the future.

   Though “Crossroads” is effectively an ensemble piece, the filmmakers know well that Spears is their ace in the hole and they showcase her to great effect, even when it detours the plot. Any movie that begins with Spears cavorting in her underwear to a Madonna song, only to plant her in a pink bra-and-panty outfit less than ten minutes later, clearly knows its audience. A handful of musical numbers also let Spears do what she does best.

   Given the parameters, “Crossroads” doesn't offer any of its participants a chance to do anything out of the ordinary. The performances are generally adequate and the technical contributions satisfactorily average with the exception of Spears who, without ever shedding her persona, does display a level of ability that should ensure her more substantial roles in the future. Whether she and her handlers are wise enough to steer in that direction, and whether her fans will accept such a move if it happens, remains to be seen. Starring Britney Spears, Anson Mount, Zoë Saldana, Taryn Manning, Kim Cattrall and Dan Aykroyd. Directed by Tamra Davis. Written by Shonda Rhimes. Produced by Ann Carli. A Paramount release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for sexual content and brief teen drinking. Running time: 93 min

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