FROM JUSTIN TO KELLY — *— Kelly Clarkson, Justin Guarini, Katherine Bailess; rated PG (backstabbing, cuddling, dancing and midriffs); Century Theatres 16.
When I found out that the people at 20th Century Fox didn't want critics to see their "American Idol" movie, "From Justin to Kelly," before you could, I assumed they thought we would be some kind of buzz kill for their totally awesome beach movie. But having just returned from a next-to-vacant afternoon showing, I can tell you the movie is less "From Here to Eternity" than from bad to worse.
Kelly Clarkson, the original "American Idol" winner, has been pushed into a romantic comedy with her runner-up, the Muppet-mopped Justin Guarini. They have the chemistry of step-siblings, so a movie that has them make out is, as one of the few girls in the theater exclaimed, "so gross."
"From Justin to Kelly" was made so soon after their victories there was barely time to change their names. So Kelly plays "Kelly" and Justin plays "Justin," and anyone who plunks down $7.50 to see them sing plays the fool. The stars meet in Miami Beach and immediately start lip-synching and gyrating. The vocals flow like Zima; the moves don't flow at all.
Kelly drove to Florida from Texas with her girlfriends for spring break. Justin is there from Pennsylvania with his friends. On the beach, the flirting and chasing and mix-ups begin, mostly at the hands of Kelly's party-monster pal Alexa (Katherine Bailess), a conniving blonde who's trying to get Justin for herself. Alexa, we're told, has a history of wanting whatever man wants Kelly. And as a poorly lighted nightclub dance number suggests, she is not merely the movie's villain, she's its Britney.
What's depressing about "From Justin to Kelly," whose title seems to refer to the text messages he sends her, is that it's been made without a lick of love, skill, or, apparently, money. "American Idol" judge Randy Jackson is more attractive than this movie.
This happens to be a Robert "She's All That" Iscove joint. You can tell because "From Justin to Kelly" has the same remarkable cruddiness the director cultivated for his Freddy Prinze Jr. vehicles: the noncommittal camerawork; the sub-boy-band choreography; the insulting cluelessness about human behavior, happy endings, kissing, and life as it is generally known on Earth. Kim Fuller whipped up the script, evidently in minutes, and he collaborated on the rest of the PG production to tell us that music brings the people of spring break together. Yeah!
Worst of all, Iscove has an almost hateful sense of how to stage the musical numbers. Guarini, for instance, speaks a line of dialogue to Clarkson, and a nanosecond later he's just lip-synching all over her. Her disgusted face is appropriate: The songs here are moldy Kraft singles. The ballad "Timeless Love" is sung by the would-be heavy petters aboard a motorboat. This scene was shot earlier this year, but as Guarini and Clarkson do their best James Ingram and Patti Austin, you feel as though you've been whisked away to 1989 and the boat is headed straight for the set of "Saved by the Bell."
"From Justin to Kelly" has been rated PG for backstabbing, cuddling, dancing, and midriffs. Running time: 80 minutes.