Attempting to delve into one of Tinseltown’s most curious scandals--the mysterious suicide (or was it?) of the original TV Superman actor George Reeves--the story begins after Reeves (Ben Affleck) is found dead of a seemingly self-inflicted gunshot wound during a late night party in his Benedict Canyon home. The case then unfolds through the eyes of Louis Simo (Adrien Brody) a street-smart publicity hungry private dick hired by Reeves’ grieving mother. As Simo slowly peels back the layers of Reeves’ seemingly glamorous life he discovers an actor of charm talent and sophistication whose every opportunity for a big break fizzled forcing him to lead a frustrated existence slumming in the superhero show he deemed beneath him. Gradually identifying with Reeves’ failed expectations for himself Simo discovers a host of candidates who may have actually pulled the trigger on the actor including his young party girl paramour (Robin Tunney) his longtime lover and patron (Diane Lane) and his lover’s husband a powerfully connected studio “fixer” (Bob Hoskins). It is Brody not Affleck who carries the bulk of the film on his shoulders and the Oscar winner delivers a finely etched turn as Simo who’s fractured potential mirrors Reeves’ but quite simply Simo’s story isn’t nearly as dark or engaging as Reeves’ life or the mystery surrounding his death. Affleck an actor who has had his share of ups downs duds and disappointments in Hollywood delivers one of his most charming and fully realized performances to date even if his spot-on recreation of Reeves’ speech pattern is a bit distracting. The luminous Lane’s acting talents remain in full blossom in a character she’s well-suited to play—the aging beauty fearing the road ahead—and she commands every scene she’s in. Unfortunately there should have been many many more of them. She’s almost criminally underused. Hoskins more menacing then ever and the reliable stable of supporting players like Joe Spano are all top-notch as well; only Tunney apparently trying to channel both Betty Boop and Bette Davis simultaneously seems a bit off her game as the wannabe femme fatale. Best known for his strong turns helming many of the best episodes of television series such as The Sopranos Sex and the City and Six Feet Under first time feature director Allen Coulter’s cool assured hand and meticulous recreation of Cold War Los Angeles are major bonuses here. Even when Simo’s story sags in comparison to Reeves’ Coulter keeps us interested particularly when staging the Rashomon-like sequences depicting the various theories behind Reeves’ demise. But by skimping on Reeves’ story in favor of a less compelling fictional framework built around a private detective investigating the case we never see one key suspect’s possible murder scenario enacted visually and it comes off as a glaring omission.
Like Sandy and Danny in Grease From Justin to Kelly's two main characters (American Idols Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini) are worlds apart: Justin's a party promoter hanging out in Miami for Spring Break; Kelly's a small-town Texas girl dragged there by her more adventurous friends. They fall madly in love after a 30-second dance number then spend the rest of the movie trying--and failing--to hook up. Contrary to the marketing behind this movie though that's where the comparisons with Grease end. From Justin to Kelly isn't a musical--it's a music video complete with MTV-style Spring Break beach parties and cellular phone "texting" as the driving force behind what little plot there is. It has the potential to be almost cultishly kitschy if the songs were even remotely interesting but they're just more of the same trite pop garbage we've come to expect from our American Idols. The songs have no connection to one another or to the plot itself and the lyrics rarely reflect the situation the characters are supposed to be singing about. Even if the songs were great and this film had a plot (they're not and it doesn't) the dance numbers look like they were choreographed by a kickboxing instructor not a dancer. On the plus side choreographer Travis Payne's athletic style may singlehandedly bring breakdancing back from its shallow '80s grave.
From Justin to Kelly is so bad it would be comical if the exploitation of two actually talented singers hadn't been so utterly complete. I mean we didn't really expect them to act but at least give them something to work with in between songs. Instead even the songs are crap and the dialogue that writer Kim Fuller (Spice World) gives the stars isn't just trite--it often makes no sense whatsoever. To wit: "We met at the beach. My friends call me Kelly for short." Short for what? Kelly? The transitions from dialogue into the songs are even worse if that's possible particularly for poor Justin. "There's definitely something going on between us you know?" he says then immediately bursts into song barking out the lyrics with such diva-esque force that if he'd really been singing to his lover he'd have burst her eardrums. Clarkson belts everything out with equal vigor--including her supposedly sweet solo number designed apparently to be a modern-day version of Olivia Newton-John's heartbreaking "Hopelessly Devoted to You." She's yawping so loudly that it's impossible to believe this is a devastated young girl who's lost her love. The only scene that remotely showcases Kelly's vocal talents comes when her good-girl character decides to let loose and party hardy at the pool with a big musical number "Must Be the Madness " which pays a bit of homage to its predecessors Saturday Night Fever and Grease.
Like the shifts from dialogue into song director Robert Iscove's shifts from scene to scene are abrupt to the point of disturbing; it's as if his editor made this pic in a DIY editing suite like iMovie with too-slow dissolves and a few thinly veiled blue screens. You expect the sign of the true amateur to appear at any moment: the ubiquitous "star wipe." And it would be remiss not to mention the completely ridiculous hovercraft race between Justin and his rival the interestingly named Luke--given the obvious if grossly misguided allusion to the pod race in Phantom Menace. There are only two reasons this movie gets even half a star. One is the fact that a minor character actually calls Justin "Sideshow Bob " a reference to the character from The Simpsons whom the almost American Idol oddly resembles instead of whispering it behind his back. The other is the bikinis which are incredibly let's say creative. But the rest of the costumes border on the ridiculous; in one splashy pool party number Clarkson's wearing a skirt made entirely of--get this--men's ties. By the time the big finale rolls around--a rendition of K.C. and the Sunshine Band's "That's the Way (I Like It)"--you'll be thinking that's the way you like this movie too--over.