THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"FROM JUSTIN TO KELLY"

Like millions of others, I watched the original “American Idol.” And also like millions of others, I voted for Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini. So I come into their big screen debut, From Justin To Kelly, with a little bit of goodwill. Now I know there are some obvious things for a film critic to criticize with this movie: 1.) It was clearly made only to capitalize on the phenomenal success of the TV show. 2.) Clarkson and Guarini are singers, not actors. 3.) No one thought they were making brilliant cinema. Okay. Fine and dandy by me. I knew that going in. In fact, knowing all these things, I went into From Justin To Kelly not just as a critic, but also as a fan.

Regular readers will know that I am not above giving a positive review to a movie that is not technically “good” so long as it is fun or entertaining. That is, after all, a big part of why we go to the movies, right? I approached From Justin To Kelly with optimism – a chance to see what would hopefully be a cheerily entertaining movie featuring two really good singers whom I like a lot. I tell you this because my opinion comes not from a place of cynicism, but from one of sincerity. This movie is a joke, and I know it as both critic and fan.

Clarkson and Guarini play two spring breakers in Florida. Clarkson is the straight-arrow who is out of place in the collegiate party lifestyle. Guarini is a party promoter whose idea of a good time is helping to stage a “whipped cream bikini contest.” (Surprisingly, this is what passes for a PG movie these days.) The two meet and are attracted to each other. Clarkson’s jealous friend schemes to keep them apart, and the two keep getting crossed signals as they try to hook up.

Musical numbers are, of course, interspersed throughout. However, they have no visual panache whatsoever. The songs rarely seem to have anything to do with the action on screen, and the choreography never rises above the level of those abysmal production numbers that often clutter up the Academy Awards. Many of the musical numbers barely even qualify as that. There’s one in which Clarkson and Guarini sing an entire song while simply walking through a crowd. Later on, Clarkson sings a 4- minute song while walking solo on a beach. The duo sits motionless on a boat for yet another number. Hey, I know this ain’t Chicago but how’s about a little pep here, for cryin’ out loud?

My other disappointment is that the dreadful screenplay (by Kim Fuller, who also penned the equally insipid Spice World) gives way too much screen time to the generic supporting characters. Clarkson’s other friend romances a local busboy. Guarini’s buddy keeps getting ticketed by a female cop. His other buddy scours the beach looking for a girl he met in an internet chat room. The movie is called From Justin To Kelly. Supporting characters are fine, but if their names aren’t Justin or Kelly, they should stay in the background where they belong.

As I said, there are a number of obvious criticisms of the film. However, I would have been perfectly willing to overlook them had this movie been fun. It’s not fun, though. There should have been more music, more dancing, and a lot more Justin and Kelly. I watched these people on TV for a whole season. They are likable, interesting people. They have winning personalities and buckets of charisma. None of that comes off here. Rather than letting them just “be,” the filmmakers try to turn them into “characters” and wedge them into a “story.” In general, character and story are good things to have in a picture. But when you’re merely trying to capitalize on a pop cultural phenomenon, they can also work against you. From Justin To Kelly proves this beyond the shadow of a doubt.

The only thing I really liked here was the music. Clarkson and Guarini are wonderful singers. I’d listen to them sing names out of a phone book. But I have their CDs, so why do I need this embarrassment of a movie?

( 1/2 out of four)


From Justin To Kelly is rated PG for thematic elements, sensuality, and brief language. The running time is 1 hour and 22 minutes.

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