Since inciting a nationwide hormonal tidal wave with the video for “…Baby One More Time,” Britney Spears has more or less succeeded in marketing herself as all things to all people. To the girls who idolize her, she’s the ultimate glamour girl, a fresh-faced pop star who maintains a public veneer of homespun goodness even as she writhes onstage with the steely determination of a hardened sex-industry worker. To adults, Spears is virgin, whore, naughty babysitter, and girl-next-door all rolled up into one barely legal, former-presidential-nominee-arousing package. She and her handlers have made a fortune packaging her for the widest imaginable audience, which makes it perverse that her first movie, Crossroads, seems designed to appeal only to Cool As Ice-loving camp aficionados. The film offers loads of unintentional laughs, which begin when Spears is introduced as a virginal valedictorian and don’t subside until a final performance cheesy enough to rival Mariah Carey’s similarly misbegotten Glitter. Cast against type as a fully clothed, book-learning poetess, Spears stars as one of three childhood chums whose vow to remain Best Friends Forever dissipates as they grow into well-worn high-school stereotypes. Spears is, of course, the smart, sensible, modestly dressed brainiac of the group, while Zoe Saldana assumes the role of the popular girl hiding childhood insecurities, and Taryn Manning plays the tough girl who pays a terrible price for her one night of drinking with boys. The trio’s friendship receives a second chance, however, when Manning asks Spears and Saldana to accompany her on a cross-country trip to audition for a record label. Over the course of their trip, they live, learn, love, and bond while singing the songs of Shania Twain, ‘N Sync, Joan Jett, and others, all while consuming delicious Pepsi beverages and wrestling with such decidedly un-Spears issues as rape, abandonment, unwanted pregnancy, and abortion. Creepy, reactionary, and dramatically inept, Crossroads could traumatize 10-year-old girls looking for lighthearted escapism, and not just because of the vacuum-like nature of Spears’ performance or the film’s grainy, under-lit look. Even as a valentine to Britney, Crossroads fails: Spears is filmed and costumed in such a harsh, unflattering manner that it looks like Christina Aguilera bribed the crew to make her rival look as hideous as possible. Spears’ ubiquity has spawned an inevitable backlash, but the awful Crossroads ought to do more harm to her career than even the most powerful Britney-basher.
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