Eeuurgh. Awful. Just awful.
The film initially asks for suspension of disbelief on a scale hitherto unimagined as we are introduced to Britney as Lucy Wagner, the shy, retiring high school valedictorian. Her father Pete (Dan Aykroyd, may Allah forgive him) is rightly proud of her achievement, having encouraged her to work hard and forego the usual teen activities of hanging around on street corners swigging Buckfast from a bottle and smoking crack. All this study has resulted in Lucy drifting apart from her oddly named childhood friends Kit (Zoe Saldana) and Mimi (Taryn Manning), names more commonly associated with Persian cats.
Kit is now the bitchy, popular spoilt little rich kid while Mimi rounds out our government prescribed clich? quota by being trailer park trash, and pregnant to boot. However, the trio honour an agreement made in their youth (shown as a prologue in a scene so sickeningly cute that it would be rejected from the Care Bears movie for being over-the-top) to exhume a buried box. My hopes this would be in some way related to the box from Hellraiser are dashed when it is opened to reveal various photos and trinkets, symbolic of their youthful ambitions. The main upshot of this is Mimi's revelation of her going to California the next day to some record company audition, and her wish that they accompany her. Initially they don't want to, but Pete's well meaning but overbearing planning of Lucy's life leads to her wanting to run off to Arizona to see her mother, who walked out on her as a child much to Pete's chagrin. Pete doesn't want her to go after her, but Lucy sneaks off anyway to hitch a lift that far, at least. Kit has a boyfriend in Cali, so she decides to join up as well.
They all rather eagerly jump into the car of Ben Kimble (Anson Mount), despite his vague introduction as someone Mimi has seen around the trailer park a bit. Rumours of him just being released from prison on a murder rap do little to dissuade them, but this glimmer of hope for the lassies being mercilessly butchered and fed to pigs remains little more than a tease. They drive off, Ben listening to loud rock music and not talking much, which as far as the amateur hour screenplay is concerned is enough to be menacing and slightly threatening. The girls whine about his choice in music for a while until Ben relents and changes the channel to something playing Shania Twain, to which the girls wail along to like the howling of the banshees. Ben briefly becomes my hero by turning the channel back and telling them to shut up, but in your heart you know it won't be long before he's pussy-whipped into submission, and indeed a similar scene towards the end of the movie has him singing along like a moron, which we could charitably call character development.
The usual slings and arrows to be expected on such a voyage beset the trip. Their car breaks down, forcing them to wait and bicker like the immature horrors they are while Ben walks off to arrange a tow-truck. Covering the repair costs leave them short of cash, so they do a cringe worthy rock number in a Karaoke bar to raise cash, with Mimi choking in the spotlight forcing Lucy to step up to bat. She very quickly, probably unbelievably so if you actually care about it, loses her shyness and inhibitions to end up practically pole-dancing. The attendees like this, showing a remarkable lapse in taste, and pony up enough dough to send them on their way to Arizona.
The next few paragraphs I'd generally consider spoilers and hide away, but if I had to suffer through them you're damned if you're getting away that lightly. Lucy disembarks to show up at her mothers house, where she is set straight on the basis of their relationship in a fairly callous way, telling Lucy that she was a 'mistake' and she has no wish to see her ever again. This should be upsetting but by this point I merely wished she would kill herself to spare me the bother of hunting her down and gutting her like a fish. Britneys emoting is truly a thing of wonder, to be immortalised in any number of 'How not to act' seminars worldwide. It's a thing of laughable beauty, something that should be framed and preserved for future generations to marvel at. Lucy seeks out the shoulder of Ben to cry on, which is pretty much the start of their falling-in-love-by-the-numbers. Ben is the only character who has the luxury of developing in a way that isn't entirely forced on by random calamitous events happening to him, just as a response to these events happening to the girls. As such he's the only character it's possible to have any connection with without feeling like some puppet jerked around by Shonda Rhimes' preposterous screenplay.
Why preposterous? Well, on getting to California Ben vanishes to get a band together while Mimi and Kit head off to see Kit's boyfriend. In an earlier scene of female bonding we establish that Mimi's unborn child is a result of her being raped, which of course wasn't reported to the police on the basis that she was a bit drunk at the time. I'm sure you see where this is heading. On opening the door Kit realises firstly that he's been cheating on her and then by a remarkable leap in logic that he was the rapist. See, Mimi said her assailant drank beer from a blue bottle and so does this guy! As only one person could possibly drink beer from a blue bottle, the prosecution rests. Mimi's hanging around outside and confirms this tale, before running away, falling down some stairs and as a consequence having a miscarriage.
Remind me not to get a lift with this shower, they appear to be jinxed by some mad gypsy curse. The way most of these hugely serious issues are dealt with is contemptible, with the girls having a brief cry about it before turning the radio on and singing along to Shania as though it was nothing more serious than losing a fiver. The catalogue of disaster seems entirely forced and artificial, and makes a complete mockery of caring about any of the characters these misfortunes befall.
Lucy's father flies out to take them back home, they being as sick of this trip as I am. Lucy decides to finally stand up to her father that may have had more of an impact if Pete was written as anything other than a caring father who had her best interests at heart even when she's too blind to see it. Note that everything she's rebelled on thus far has blown up spectacularly. Still, she goes ahead and takes Mimi's place at the audition, aided by the girls on backing vocals and Ben's hastily assembled band. They win by a lapse in taste, bringing a thankful end to the horrors.
Please do not misunderstand me, I don't hate this movie because it has Britney Spears in it, I hate it because it's utterly abysmal. There are some less-awful-than-Britney performances from Saldana and Manning and a reasonable one from Anson Mount (who went on to play the rookie cop in City By The Sea, so he may yet escape the credibility sapping vortex of this nightmare). That said, quite what the point in casting Aykroyd, a noted and exceptional comic actor in a role that doesn't have anything to do with comedy puzzles me somewhat, and he doesn't shine as a result.
The direction is almost irrelevant; for the most part it consists of peppering as many close ups of Britney as possible around like garnish on a turd. There's no flair, no style, no panache, just a workmanlike direction of a risible script with a poor lead. I recognise I'm hardly the target audience, being about ten years too old and one gender too male, but no one deserves a movie this poor. Should you like Britneys pop performances you may find this more agreeable, but a thinly veiled 90-minute pop video is a grating thought.
Having exhausted every other avenue, I resort to baser instincts as ever. There's no joy from an eye-candy perspective either though, the girls being cute but (despite their actual ages) cute in a 'not-legal' sense, if you know what I mean.
For Britneyphiles and paedophiles only. Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements I'd award this 0/5 TippyMarks and try to erase the experience from my memory entirely.
Zoe Saldana (Kit)
Taryn Manning (Mimi)
Anson Mount (Ben Kimble)
Dan Aykroyd (Pete Wagner)