This month's Queen of Pop, Britney Spears storms the movies as virginal Lucy, another variation of a small-town Little Miss Perfect, who discovers her inner raunch in Crossroads. In search of her long-lost mother (Kim Cattrall), she sets off on a road trip with her childhood buds, bitchy Kit (Zoe Saldana) and pregnant, trailer-trash Mimi (Taryn Manning). They hitch a ride with Ben (Anson Mount), an affable slacker who helps Lucy transform herself into a singer, as well as a full-fledged Woman.
Strangely, while watching this, one is reminded of another wartime pop goddess, Betty Grable, whose popularity and talents were about on a par with Spears'. Spears has a fawn-like prettiness and an ingratiating, amorphously sweet quality which aptly registers Lucy's good-girl persona. However, in the film's most unintentionally hilarious moment, she drops this as quickly as she does in any of her suggestively transformational video appearances. In an effort to scrape some bucks together, Lucy nervously enters a N'Awlins karaoke competition. Singing publicly for the first time, she approaches the stage tremulously, but then suddenly checks the mike with a smart tap that has all of the slick professionalism, at least, of Cher on her last tour. She then jiggles with savvy aplomb to "I Love Rock 'n Roll," giving out with a voice that is pure Britney, laced with that patented, bizarrely nasal growl that even Florence Henderson memorably imitated on her now-defunct NBC show ("Oh, baby, baby…"). (Even Diana Ross, as Billie Holliday debuting, remembered to display some initial humility, f"Chrissakes!) Actually, even before this, Spears' by-now familiar image has been delivered with heartless precision by the filmmakers in Crossroads' first scene, which has her bouncing around her bedroom, lip-synching to Madonna, while clad in bra and panties. The emphasis on her vaunted chastity has a lip-smacking salaciousness to it that is both titillating and--one wearily supposes--instructive to pubescent minds. (The gambit is, however, nothing new; Doris Day made a career on it.) In her big crying scene, rejected by Mom again, Spears even acquits herself with an emotional accuracy that has always eluded her idol, Madonna, onscreen.
In their clichd roles, Saldana has a comic, rubbery grace and Manning feistily comes across as a junior Jennifer Jason Leigh. As the De-virginizer, the aptly named Mount manages some scruffy charm, especially fighting over the car radio with the girls and finally giving in, when he joyously sings along to some chick anthem. (However, when he explodes into a momentary dust-kicking fit of rage in Arizona, one briefly fears that he will launch into one of those cowboy dirt dances popularized by Madonna's "Don't Tell Me.") As Lucy's square Dad, Dan Aykroyd gets consistent audience laughs by merely answering the phone ("Y'hello!") and Beverly Johnson briefly shows off her gorgeousness and some humor as Kit's vain, competitive mother. Cattrall seems to have wandered off the "Sex and the City" set, so completely made-up and accoutered is she, for just a quiet day around the house when Lucy springs that surprise visit on her.--David Noh