Unwatchable #20: “From Justin to Kelly”

Your fearless – and quite possibly senseless – movie janitor is watching every movie on the IMDb Bottom 100 list. Join us now for another installment of Unwatchable.

I’ve only ever seen one episode of American Idol in my life. It happened when some friends threw a little viewing party for the first season finale ten years ago. As I recall, it was an impossibly bloated production, full of music I would never listen to on purpose, and seemingly hours worth of Seacrest-flavored filler. It’s hard to believe now that there was any suspense at all about the outcome. A decade later, winner Kelly Clarkson is a music superstar, while runner-up Justin Guarini is a Trivial Pursuit answer.

Guarini did get one more moment in the spotlight, however, as Fox attempted to capitalize on Idol‘s ratings momentum by slapping together this musical-comedy quickie subtitled The Tale of Two American Idols. Despite its origins, the result bears more resemblance to MTV Spring Break: The Movie than the singing competition that spawned it. Here is the plot description from the film’s IMDb page:

“A lonely, sexually repressed man. A depressed woman. A summer camp. On this fateful night, they will meet… and their hearts will become one.”

This is not actually the plot of From Justin to Kelly at all, but rather, I can only assume, the work of some nefarious practical joker. If that had been the plot, we might have something more interesting to talk about here. Instead, this is what happens: Texas honky-tonk waitress and part-time singer Kelly reluctantly accompanies her BFFs Alexa (Katherine Bailess) and Kaya (Anika Noni Rose) to Miami, where every college-aged hardbody in North America has congregated to play volleyball, drink Jello shots, and create unwanted pregnancies. On the beach, during the first of many awkward musical numbers, Kelly meets floppy-haired party planner Justin, the mayor of spring break, in town with his bros Brandon (Greg Siff) and Eddie (Brain Dietzen).

Their on-again, off-again romance gives you a pretty good idea of what a Grease 3 set in the age of texting and whipped-cream bikini contests might have looked like. Indeed, From Justin to Kelly may well have been the first movie in which text-messaging comprises a major plot point, as Kelly’s friend Alexa turns out to be a conniving back-stabber who uses the cutting-edge technology to drive the young lovers apart. Alas, that’s the lone innovation on display here, as veteran TV-movie director Robert Iscove puts his acting-challenged young stars through their rote young-romance paces without ever managing to detect the slightest bit of chemistry between them. Clarkson comes through reasonably unscathed; she’s no Meryl Streep, but at least she’s got her natural charisma to see her through. Guarini’s only convincing moment comes when he snaps at a dude for calling him “Sideshow Bob” — but then, he’s probably had a lot of practice with that.

Still, From Justin to Kelly would just be another predictable rom-com if not for the musical numbers, all of which have been pieced together in the editing room from bits of indifferently-shot footage featuring vaguely attractive young people making random, herky-jerky movements to a treacly dance-pop beat. The numbers do not flow smoothly in and out of the narrative, and they’re certainly not show-stopping set pieces; they’re just obligatory padding, like the Love Boat-esque subplots involving the friends of Kelly and Justin. Even at 81 minutes with credits, From Justin to Kelly still seems to last from here to eternity.

Previously on Unwatchable:

21. Keloglan vs. the Black Prince
22. Ghoulies IV
23. Manos: The Hands of Fate
24. Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow
25. Santa Claus

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