7/2/07

R006 Crossroads

(2002, Teen Drama-Musical, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson

I’m not a frog, nor am I a wombat...

Rating: **1/2

In a nutshell:

Britney Spears runs away from home with her two best friends and a hunky ex-con.

Summary:

The title refers to the characters' rite of passage to responsible adulthood, as represented by underage drinking, premarital sex, and karaoke.Eight years into the far-flung past, three ten-year-old girls bury a time capsule filled with items that represent their hopes and dreams. They vow to return and dig it up again on the first midnight following their high school graduation.

Time passes, and the appointed night arrives. Only by now, the girls have drifted apart, if by “drifted apart,” you mean “become mortal enemies.” Still, Mimi (the spunky pregnant one) remembers that box full of dreams, and pressures her former friends Kit (the thin black fashion queen) and Lucy (Britney Spears as the overachieving nerd) into meeting her at the appointed place. They dig up their box and remember their dreams, and then Mimi tries to talk the other two into driving out to California to help her audition for an American Idol-esque competition.

Kit and Lucy decline, but next day’s events convince them to reconsider. Kit’s engaged to an unseen but presumably unpleasant young man who talks her into coming out to L.A. to meet him, while Lucy decides to escape her domineering father (Dan Aykroyd) and search for her estranged mother in Arizona. The man in whose vehicle they will travel is the pulchritudinous Ben, who just finished his prison sentence and subsequent probation, and may or may not have killed a guy. They all pile in and head west. Thus begin their standard road movie adventures, with slimy motels, monetary woes, purposeless bickering, and the inevitable vehicle breakdown. Alas, car repair was not in their travel budget, necessitating the calling of parents to take them all home. Unless...

Unless there just happens to be a bar in town that just happens to be holding a karaoke contest that just happens to pay its winners several thousand dollars that just happens to take place that very evening. Of course they enter the contest, and of course their lead singer Mimi freezes up in front of the crowd, and of course Britney (I mean Lucy) steps in to save the day and win the contest.

The three friends spend part of their winnings at a posh hotel, where the non-pregnant ones get plastered on cheap wine while they share their deepest, darkest secrets. (Lucy, of course, has an estranged mother; Kit used to be fat; and Mimi is pregnant as a result of date rape. It speaks volumes about this movie to note that each of these dramatic revelations is greeted with equal amounts of horror.) They vow never to drift apart again.

Standing three abreast.The road trip continues. Ben falls asleep in the back seat, so Lucy lifts his keys and drives his car against his will, leading to the kicking of dirt and many apologies. Later, we discover that he did not, in fact, kill a guy, but was imprisoned on a technicality for defending his stepsister from his abusive stepfather. This revelation of nice-guyhood is quickly followed by a romantic camping trip in the Texas wilderness, during which Ben convinces Lucy to read him some of her home-brewed poetry.

They arrive in Arizona for Parental Confrontation Number One. Ben et al. drop Lucy off for a brief but supremely awkward meeting with her estranged mom (Kim Cattrall). The actual “talk” is more implied than shown; later, Lucy sobs into Ben’s shoulder while she tells him how it all down. In a nutshell, her mom has built a comfortable, Lucy-free life, and would like it to stay that way. Ben cheers her up by showing her the music he wrote to go with her poem.

Next stop: Los Angeles. They fill out their audition applications and check into a hotel. Kit and Mimi head out to paint the town, while Ben and Lucy stay behind to clear up the latter’s pesky virginity problem. Meanwhile, it becomes evident that Kit has an ulterior motive for venturing into the city; namely, to find her erstwhile fiancĂ© and demand attention. Said fiancĂ©, Dylan, meets them at the door to his apartment, but refuses to let them in. Kit forces her way past him to meet his shapely young companion, and thus discovers him for what he is! A cheating player! And then—I kid you not—Mimi recognizes him as the date-rapist father of her baby! Oh cruel fate! Ah waily, waily, waily! What a woild, what a woild... Mimi flees the apartment, trips on the stairs, and ends up miscarrying in the hospital. Tears and flowers are exchanged, parents are called, and our layover in telenovela-land comes to a merciful end.

On to Parental Confrontation Number Two, in which Lucy’s overbearing father bullies her into leaving Ben and her singing dreams behind to return to her old life of timid nerdity. They get as far as the first stop sign before Lucy rebels and flees the taxi. The last sequence shows her auditioning the song she wrote with Ben.

Thoughts:

Oh, my long-lost darling daughter, I never loved you.Back in 2002, when I saw when that someone had made a road movie starring a hot pants-clad pop singer and her teenage friends, I (along with everyone else in the world that is not female and between the ages of nine and fifteen) had to clench my fists and think aggressive, masculine thoughts to avoid a mouthful of saccharine vomit. When I saw that Rifftrax had done a commentary for it, I feared I would be submitting myself to Red Zone Cuba levels of awfulness. Thankfully, I was wrong. Compared to being dragged cross-country with Coleman Francis and Tony Cardoza, Britney Spears is a breath of fresh air.

Now, I wouldn’t actually encourage my daughters to watch it (its attitudes towards sex and underage drinking are rather casual) but as a film, surprise of surprises, Crossroads is not all that bad. Like Top Gun and Road House, it is a pure genre creation, and follows the road movie template with exacting precision. It knows its target audience—the teenage girl, a subset of human being that cannot imagine the existence of a wiser, gentler, and more intelligent creature than herself—and filters its events through that worldview almost perfectly. All obstacles are overcome with pluck and courage. Boys are either holy, sanctified creatures worthy of worship or slimy, date-raping lowlifes. Parents are one-dimensional taskmasters whose sole purpose is to applaud your successes when you achieve them and stifle joy on every other occasion. As a whole, it is a bright, glossy, inoffensive film that reaches depths of maybe half an inch.

Which brings me to the really strange thing about it: As a movie, it is decent, but as a showcase for Britney Spears’ singing talent (presumably the entire reason for this film’s existence) it is an abysmal failure. The filmmakers’ strategy for working music into the action relies heavily on karaoke and singing along with the radio, revealing Britney’s Achilles heel—all singing styles that are not her own. You want her to sing “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman”? Fine. It was written specifically for her (by a trio of British musicians and not a virtuous ex-con, but that’s quibbling) and requires the sort of vocal gymnastics she’s famous for. You want her to sing along with Madonna, N’Sync, Joan Jett, and Sheryl Crow? You’re going to need earplugs. You’d think someone would have noticed and cut these sequences before they could derail an otherwise acceptable movie.

On the commentary track, Mike Nelson goes this movie alone, and though I miss the interaction that goes on with more than one riffer, he manages to make this movie entertaining with comments that compare Britney’s karaoke costume to Peter Frampton, and N’Sync’s music to having a nail pounded through his left eardrum. Later on, he explains the girls’ behavior during their deep sharing session by assuming that they are all “Woody Harrelson-stoned.” During the endless “Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman” audition sequence at the end, he comes up with alternative lyrics, enumerating all of the other things that Britney Spears is not. It’s a fun commentary that’s worth checking out.