Like American Idol itself, From Justin to Kelly intends to flout coastal-elite notions of what the breadbasket calls entertainment. With reality-rapt respect for the everypeople who dream of tormenting Simon Cowell, this ’50s beach romp update is a spring break fantasy for “real” kids—not the verité monsters of Manic or the upcoming Thirteen, and certainly not the bikini-slapping libertines of The Real Cancun or the haute-stuff poster children in randy Mandy-Britney flicks. It wants to get sheltered Southern edge-city kids right, to teach them right, and to convince parents on the right that their progeny’s nascent sexuality (and allowances) are safe with Fox, the most trusted name in conservative mainstream media. With a smooth yet low-tech approach, J2K‘s absence of slick is both exhilarating and scary.
Our nation’s second-favorite Texan, Idol-rich Kelly Clarkson, brings her sexy normalcy and Pink-ish pipes to the role of Kelly, a waitress vacationing in Miami with pals: black-and-brainy Kaya and Alexa, a turbo-bleached Neimans-rat. At a wildly flirty but grindless bash, Kelly and Justin (fellow Idol vet Justin Guarini), trade Fosse-lite spins, but their text message courtship is sabotaged by Alexa. Cornpone scenarios come off breezily—Justin’s compadre is serially ticketed by a babe cop; their sun-crisped nerd companion botches his f2f with a chat room crush; Alexa perpetrates lie after lie. And, despite enervated r&b tunes even McMansion kids in Dallas will mock, the infectious song’n’dance inspires school-play boosterism.
But amid this glad tumble of Limited lycra (Kelly’s duds are Wet Seal meets Karen O), surreality seeps in: American flags fly prominently; and despite sideline breakin’, all rappers are white. In this Miami, purses can be left on tables and cocktails go chastely unsipped. People say things like, “You need a party girl, just like the president needs a first lady,” and all the sexy buildup is sated by one fountainside kiss. Bury this in the time capsule: a memento of the Clean South, 2003.
If J2K gets over on vaudeville spark, it should’ve been a cinch for Kate Hudson and Luke Wilson to flint up Alex & Emma, Rob Reiner’s contempo-comic take on Hungarian Károly Makk’s genteel The Gambler (1997), a merge of Dostoyevsky’s real-life trysting and the plot of his titular novella. This conceit affords multiple chances for Sturges-style repartee, with Wilson as gambling debtor-novelist who must furnish a manuscript or get snuffed. With his computer disabled by goons, he employs opinionated stenographer Hudson, and over time falls in love (à la Dostoyevsky, who married his assistant). Unfortunately, their collaborative spars sound more pre-nup than Princess Bride (“Look, I’m the writer, OK?!). And when we toggle into the “fiction”—Wilson as a Gilded Age gambler, and Hudson as a governess of shifting nationality, the embers dim further. This isn’t one for the time capsule—just bury it.