The arrival of “From Justin to Kelly” -- or more appropriately “The American Idol Movie!” -- couldn’t be more timely. “Chicago” and “Moulin Rouge” have given movie musicals a revived respectability and legitimacy, threatening to make the tacky, low-budget film musical an endangered species.
But the vast legion of guilty-pleasure fans who embrace the guilty pleasures of “Xanadu,” applaud Mariah Carey in “Glitter” and swoon over Michelle Pfeiffer in “Grease 2" can rest easy. While “From Justin to Kelly,” starring the top two finishers of last year’s “American Idol” TV talent show, doesn’t quite have the jaw-dropping moments of its predecessors, it will do for now. Besides, there are worse ways to spend 81 minutes of your summer than watching a major studio release featuring two newcomers, whose previous film experience consisted of waiting in the snack line at their local multiplex, kicking up sand during elaborate production numbers on south Florida beaches.
“From Justin to Kelly” is less a movie than a big-screen bobblehead of Fox TV’s phenomenon “American Idol.” . “Idol” has become the top-rated series in its last two seasons, spawning hit albums and singles, DVDs and concert tours. Naturally, an “American Idol"-based movie to further drive the marketing onslaught was inevitable.
The film was designed as a showcase for Kelly Clarkson, a former Texas waitress who was crowned the first “American Idol,” and curly-haired Justin Guarini. Since her “coronation,” Clarkson has had a No. 1 album and single. Guarini’s recently released album has received much less hoopla.
The plot is a 21st century twist on the Frankie Avalon-Annette Funicello beach movies of the 1960s -- sort of hip-hop meets the flip-flops. However, the squeaky-clean “From Justin to Kelly” makes those films look like “The Real Cancun.” There’s not a wet T-shirt or drunken youth in sight. You’d find more mayhem at a Blockbuster on a Friday night.
Clarkson takes on the role of Kelly, a Texas waitress with a cautious streak who journeys with her two best friends, Kaya (Anika Noni Rose) and Alexa (Katherine Bailess) to spring break in Miami Beach. Also frolicking among the trunks and bikinis is Justin (Guarini), a Pennsylvania college student who is promoting parties along with his friends, horribly bad rapper Brandon (Greg Siff) and cyber-nerd Eddie (Brian Dietzen).
It’s only a few minutes after the opening credits before Kelly and Justin catch each other’s eye as they -- along with about a hundred scantily clad extras -- break out in song and dance on the beach. But the moment is brief. Although they try hard to get their groove on, their romance is constantly thwarted by the devious blond vixen Alexa, who wants Justin for herself.
Relentlessly inoffensive, innocuous and vacuous, “From Justin to Kelly” is nowhere near as bad as its pre-release publicity would suggest (the film was not screened in advance for critics). Director Robert Iscove mostly keeps a breezy pace, there are plenty of songs and dance numbers spaced between the clunky dialogue, and Travis Payne’s choreography is lively, if unimaginative.
As a vehicle for Clarkson and Guarini, the movie is less certain. Fans of the show will most likely be satisfied. Clarkson has a pleasant enough voice, and Guarini’s hair gives a fine performance. The two don’t really embarrass themselves, even in their dramatic scenes. But the filmmakers are savvy enough to realize that Clarkson and Guarini don’t yet have the charisma or chops to carry a movie, even a throwaway one like this.
They may be “American Idols,” but based on their movie debut, don’t count on Clarkson and Guarini being signed for the film version of “Sweeney Todd.” But there’s still hope for fans longing for “From Justin to Kelly 2" ... or who knows, perhaps “Xanadu Revisited.”
‘From Justin to Kelly’
MPAA rating: PG for thematic elements, sensuality and brief language.
Times guidelines: The setting is spring break in Miami, but there’s more skin and debauchery in a Britney Spears video.
Anika Noni Rose...Kaya
Twentieth Century Fox presents a 19 Entertainment production, released by Twentieth Century Fox. Director Robert Iscove. Producers Gayla Aspinall and John Steven Agoglia. Executive producer Simon Fuller. Screenplay by Kim Fuller. Cinematographer Francis Kenny. Editors Casey O. Rohrs and Tirsa Hackshaw. Costume designer Bobbie Read. Music Michael Windmacher. Production designer Charles Rosen. Art director Nicklas Farrantello. Set decorator Regina McLarney-Crowley. Running time: 1 hour, 21 minutes.
In general release.