Crossroads: A movie just like Purple Rain, except it sucks

BY KEN WALCZAK

OK, let’s get this out of the way first. Britney Spears appears in this movie:

  • in a pajama top and panties;
  • in a bra and panties;
  • in a towel, stepping out of the shower; and
  • in her underwear again.

There is also something of a subplot that involves Britney’s character losing her virginity. However, this is on the whole more comical than erotic. For one thing, the tense moments leading up to the steamy, off-camera action are not that hot. Britney’s beau (not Justin Timberlake, but the much better-named Anson Mount) asks the obligatory question: “Are you sure?” to which Ms. Spears responds in the affirmative with the obligatory removal of her top. Don’t log on to Fandango for your ticket just yet though — the “top” is a see-through wrap covering her regular shirt. You can see nothing more after Britney removes it than you could before.

The virginity plotline goes from funny-absurd to actual ha-ha-funny a little later on in the movie. Nearing the end of her road-trip adventure, Britney has had to call in her dad (poor, unfortunate Dan Aykroyd) to dig her out of a jam. Dad inquires about the glowering, unshaven young man in the corner, asking if he is a friend. Britney’s response: “No, he just gave me a ride.”

If, like me, you were to catch a 10 p.m. showing of Crossroads at the gargantuan Loews, you would in all probability be treated to a crowd that appreciates the splendid double entendre that line contains. Then again, you might also be treated a crowd that answers their ringing cell phones, and contributes additional dialogue to the flick by way of catcalls, so decide for yourself if it’s a better viewing environment than a gaggle of 12-year-old mini-Brits at the matinee.

Of course I should also mention that my viewing audience contained one truly special member. This guy proved he was truly in tune with the spirit of Crossroads during the movie’s big finale, when Britney and her spears (caution: spoilers ahead!) make their big debut, belting out the epic, “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman.” As the on-screen nightclub swayed back and forth in matching rhythm, and poor, poor Dan Aykroyd brushed away a single tear, this guy actually held up a lighter.

That’s when it hit me. Tamra Davis (wife of a Beastie Boy, director of CB4, should have known better) is trying to re-make Purple Rain! She uses the exact same formula: fictionalizing and re-telling the meteoric rise to success of a current pop megastar, focusing especially on the personal tragedy said pop star and his/her friends have to face and overcome along the way. And the whole thing is focused through the eye of the needle dragging a single plot thread, namely the composition of one key song. (Prince’s movie had its title song; a little research reveals that Crossroads originally bore the title Not a Girl … I think you can understand why they dropped it.)

Obviously this epiphany left me badly shaken. How could Ms. Davis ever imagine this was going to work? You simply can’t make Purple Rain without Prince. The Violet One was a real American icon — flamboyant, bluntly sexual, of ambiguous color and sexuality (if not ambiguous gender, see his alter ego “Camille”) — of the mid-1980s, and possibly the last truly great pop star in this country. Plus he was absolutely lousy with musical talent. Britney is cute, she’s got a nice figure and she likes being in front of the camera. But that’s as far as it goes.

Anyway the genius of Purple Rain was entirely tied in with Prince’s unique talent. Whatever flaws there were in the acting and the storytelling — and there are many, some charming, some not so charming — are instantly forgotten the moment the Revolution steps on stage. Not so with Britney’s “band.” In Crossroads, we can only ponder the nonsensical lyrics of “Not a Girl,” or marvel at the sheer inessential-ness of a karaoke version of “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” as popularized by Joan Jett, new and “improved” by turntable scratching. When it’s all over, the bad acting and misdirected (not merely cliché, but downright clumsy) plot are back in full force at the front of our minds.

I’ll spare you most of the particulars. I’ve already mentioned my extreme pity for Dan Aykroyd; otherwise, Kim Cattrall is overly sinister as Britney’s estranged mom, and Zoe Saldana is ultra-bland as Britney Sidekick #1. Worst of all by far, though, is the mumbling, bewildered performance by Taryn Manning as Sidekick #2. I understand Tamra didn’t want to upstage her “star” (as her mother would tell you, Britney “HAS to be first!!”), but did she have to resort to casting a supporting actress who can’t even spell “enunciation”?

All of this is even more of a shame once you realize that Britney herself isn’t all that bad. Her character is scripted, and she plays the role, as understated as possible, given the teen-melodrama subject matter. Play it down to avoid the possibility of coming off as hysterical kitsch — this was apparently Mariah Carey’s tack in Glitter, though by all accounts it failed miserably for her. Whereas Britney holds her own pretty well, managing some well-placed sympathetic looks, and one line — a compassionate “yeah” with just the right pitch and tone — that is positively grounds for celebration. It’s only one word, but it’s a start.

But there’s no Morris Day, no Time, no Wendy & Lisa, and thus really nothing to cheer about when the big pop star finally does overcome adversity and attains her big day in the spotlight. The best the audience can really hope for is the feeling they’re all in on the same joke, so that when Britney reads her “poetry” to Mr. Mount, making him “promise not to laugh,” you can look to your neighbor and proclaim “we never promised!” Such a shame, really.

Crossroads is in theatres now. Don’t bother.

On the other hand, if you are a Prince fan, and believe that the lack of a decent Widescreen DVD of Purple Rain is one of this decade’s great travesties, e-mail kwalczak@law.harvard.edu, and express your interest in helping spearhead a letter-writing campaign

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