Directed by: Robert Iscove
Starring: Kelly Clarkson, Justin Guarini, Katherine Bailess, Anika Noni, Rose, Greg Siff
Move over, Mariah Carrey, there's a new kid in town, and she's got a movie that out-Glitters Glitter.
Almost two years ago, 20th Century Fox gave the musical film a badly needed shot in the arm by releasing Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge!. As if determined to undo not only all the good they did, but also the revitalization efforts of John Cameron Mitchell (with Hedwig and the Angry Inch) and Rob Marshall (with Chicago), they now bring us Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini) in "the story of two American Idols" (supported by a cast you never heard of boosted to "star" status from roles like Dancer No. 5).
From Justin to Kelly is basically The Real Cancun minus boobs, but with horrible production numbers built around shapeless songs that will have you on your knees praying to hear the soundtrack to Xanadu -- or possibly even The Apple. Now I willingly concede that I have never seen even the tiniest snippet of American Idol and this movie wasn't made with me in mind, but I'm damned if I know who it was made for. I would like to think that the fans of the show and its two idols -- well, one idol and one runner-up idolette -- deserve more than this witless, plotless, shapeless, cheaper-than-dirt movie. At the very least, they could have been given a story line that made some kind of sense.
The entire film is built around the premise that Justin -- (complete with 367 teeth and 30 pounds of hair, and looking for all the world like the bastard child of Richard Simmons and Leo Sayer) meets Kelly on spring break (what they are breaking from is unclear, since neither appears to be in school, though both could use a good drama academy) and falls for her. The course of true love being what it is, things are complicated by Kelly's skanky friend, Alexa (Katherine Bailess, who may not be, but who looks 10 years older than the rest of the perky cast -- a comment on the wages of sin perhaps?). For reasons the film never quite makes believable, Alexa does her level best to keep the doting duo apart -- and generally succeeds until the last reel.
One might charitably think she's looking out for our interest and trying to keep the pair from launching into any further grim power-ballad duets, but since she has her own production number that would shame the antics of a pair of warring tomcats, I am forced to doubt the presence of any such altruistic motive. And if you remove a couple subplots, that really is the entire "story of two American idols."
Ms. Clarkson has gone on record agreeing with Fox's decision not to screen the movie for critics (there's a shock), stating: "I can tell you right now that none of the critics are gonna like this movie. They like stuff like In the Bedroom. They're gonna want to tear into it because all people like to do is build something up to tear it down." So there. (Now she and Britney Spears just need to sit down and discuss that awful Sundance Festival that Britney so disliked because they ran movies "where you have to think.")
Director Robert Iscove started cinematic life doing the choreography for Norman Jewison's Jesus Christ Superstar, so you might halfway expect him to show some feel for how best to present a dance number. Alas, he doesn't -- but then he also doesn't seem terribly adept at dramatic scenes, either, and his flair for comedy is such that a few lessons from the director of Dumb and Dumberer would do him no harm. The musical numbers are dropped into the proceedings with somewhat less grace than is afforded by the Hulk on a rampage in this week's big opener. There is one bright spark to all this, however: The remainder of the summer movies are looking pretty appealing right about now.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke