“From Justin to Kelly,” a bigscreen outing for TV “American Idol” stars Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini, is a parochial spring-break musical full of sexless romances and alcohol-free parties apparently aimed at a pre-teenybopper aud. But even that young crowd may not turn out in the expected droves, given Fox’s decision to postpone the originally slated spring opening to the vastly more competitive summer frame. Pic’s residence in theaters looks to be about as brief as a spring break hotel stay (or the run of “The Real Cancun”), followed by the inevitable television premiere timed to hype season three of “American Idol.”
Exec produced by promoter-producer Simon Fuller (impresario behind the Spice Girls and “American Idol”) and written by his brother Kim, “From Justin to Kelly” is, like most of the Fullers’ other creations, less art than advertisement — a feature-length opiate designed to sell soundtrack CDs and promote the solo careers of Clarkson and Guarini (the winner and runner-up, respectively, from the first season of “American Idol”).
Pic opens with Kelly (Clarkson) belting out country ballads to a handful of admirers in a two-bit bar in Texas, where there aren’t enough customers to assemble a halfway-respectable dance line. Her friends Kaia (Anika Noni Rose) and Alexa (Katherine Bailess) arrive with spring break plane tickets in hand, but the airline went bankrupt and the tickets are useless. The girls want to use Kelly’s car to go to Miami as scheduled.
Kelly “reluctantly” decides to help out, and soon the trio arrives in sunny Florida, where three buddies from Pennsylvania — nice guy Justin (Guarini), vain “event promoter” Brandon (Greg Siff) and pale, nerdy Eddie (Brian Dietzen) — have also just rolled into town. It’s a meet-cute just waiting to happen.
When Kelly and Justin first lay eyes on each other, they start singing and dancing, signaling that “From Justin to Kelly” is a full-fledged movie musical of the sort almost never made any more. But, while the characters may have refreshingly few reservations about bursting into song, the songs are born out of that anonymous, sound-alike whir that defines the brunt of top-40 music today.
And when there is a flash of inspiration, like a Cuban-flavored number featuring Kaya, it is cut inexplicably short, fading out in mid-song. (The irony of the “Idol” franchise is that the contestants are given a treasure trove of pop music riches to perform during the competition, but winning the contest means being forced to record original songs that simply can’t hold a candle.)
Pic’s director, Robert Iscove, previously made the surprise Freddie Prinze Jr. hit “She’s All That” (followed by the not-so-surprise Prinze flop “Boys and Girls”). Fuller’s screenplay shows the same superficial view of adolescents advanced in Iscove’s other films.
Here, Kelly and Justin serve as the fulcrums for supporting characters positioned out at the opposite ends of the balance beam: Each protagonist has one friend (Eddie and Kaya, respectively) who’s even more unbelievably sweet and nice (and, therefore, un-luckier in love) than they are and another friend who’s a reckless hell-raiser (Brandon and Alexa) out to further his/her own interests.
The most resounding thuds in “From Justin to Kelly,” however, come from the musical numbers. Prior to moviemaking, Iscove cut his teeth on choreography, apprenticing under Michael Bennett; but the dancing here (choreographed by Travis Payne), while accomplished, consists of the same cookie-cutter gyrations seen in countless contemporary musicvideos. Ditto for the shooting and editing of the numbers — that make too much use of a roving Steadicam.