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Published: Thursday, 8/28/2003

Clean fun at the beach

BY CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI
BLADE STAFF WRITER

After the bombs of summer are gone, the fallout drifts to earth and settles on your local video store shelves. None quicker than From Justin to Kelly (Fox Home Video, $27.98), that big-screen American Idol cash-in everybody hated and made fun of and nobody saw. Essentially a 1960s beach picture without the sharp edges or daring social commentary of an Annette Funicello-sanctioned blanket bingo, From Justin to Kelly went from theaters to video stores quicker than a reality TV star goes from E! News Live to Star Dates - a brisk 90 days.

That's a land speed record, I believe. Of course (the movie itself aside), there is a reason for the quick implosion of From Justin to Kelly: Well aware of the live candy-colored grenade it was sitting on, Fox scheduled its August video release only a few days before its June theatrical opening; and recognizing a studio's vote of no-confidence when they saw one, exhibitors balked and the film didn't even open in many markets (including Toledo).

So in an act of derring-do the other night, I watched all 90-odd minutes of the DVD special extended edition of From Justin To Kelly. It was not quite like knowing you're sitting on the Pentagon Papers, but thrilling nonetheless to venture where no human has gone before, and in a fun-bad-movie way (as opposed to a catatonic Gigli way), I even kinda sorta liked it.

Let me explain. I watched all the way through without falling asleep, and was even sad when Justin made up with Kelly, who was two-timed by her blond friend from Texas who was jealous because Kelly has it so easy with guys. Then everyone danced to KC & the Sunshine Band and the movie was over. Oh yes, this film is bizarre, with a squeaky-clean vision of American teen culture.

I doubt we will see anything like it for quite a while, and when movie theaters no longer show movies drifting in their own personal orbits the way From Justin To Kelly does, I'm not sure I'll want to write about movies anymore. It opens with Kelly Clarkson singing in a roadhouse bar. Soon she's on spring break and runs into Justin Guarini and all of the people on the beach do this weird dance that involves placing their partners perpendicular to their torsos. Justin and two friends hit the beach, and one of his friends is immediately given a ticket by a cop, and if you can figure out why he is ticketed, please let me know. The film pretends that Justin and everyone around him is incredibly out of control, although the only remarkable thing was one girl hooked up with this guy who looks at least 42.

Kelly is entered in a whipped-cream bikini contest but she refuses and spends the movie wearing clothes that would not have been out of place in a Pat Benatar video, and it starts to occur to you there is not a drip of alcohol in all of Spring Break Land, and how could this be? Anyway, Justin and his hair throw a lot of parties. His nerdy friend trips a lot and a guy barges into his hotel room and threatens to punch him. Instead they go to a bar and have a couple of Shirley Temples. Meanwhile, Justin is falling for Kelly in a very PG way and there are the complications and then Justin takes Kelly on a boat trip to the center of a lake that reminded me a lot of that scene in The Godfather, Part II when they shot Fredo.

Do yourself a favor and rent the DVD, and listen periodically to Kelly and Justin and director Robert Iscove's commentary. It's like getting a second fun-bad-movie all over again. Justin points out that he didn't notice any of the set design, including the massive kites hanging above his head in the beach scenes, and Kelly says she didn't realize there were dozens of dancers behind her in the musical numbers (my assumption is she's seeing the film for the first time). My favorite moment is during Kelly and Justin's big emotional gut-wrenching cry. Iscove listens briefly, then grows bored and explains how the crew wrapped pretty strings of blue lights around all the palm trees. Please, Fox, if only for me, make From Ruben to Clay.

eD j vu all over again: Just like last year, New Line Home Entertainment is dropping a video installment of The Lord of the Rings in two towering waves. This week's release of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers ($29.95) is a two-disc edition, featuring the excellent movie, a 10-minute sneak of the third installment, The Return of the King (due in December), and a neat six-minute short from Hobbit Sean Astin, who cast the crew as his actors. It's a fine rental, and available in full or wide-screen versions (if you pick full, we can't be friends). But it's hard to recommend when you could wait until November, spend an extra $10, and get a four-disc set with an extended cut and moat-full of extras (including the ones on the two-disc set).

Incidentally, remember those wormy dragon thingys in The Two Towers? They look remarkably like the wormy dragon thingys in the 1982 cult favorite Q: The Winged Serpent (Blue Underground, $19.95), newly remastered and including a commentary track from director Larry Cohen, a pioneer of the knowingly cheesy horror flick (and who had some recent mainstream success with the screenplay to Phone Booth). Think Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, only with Richard Roundtree and David Carradine, and a loving respect for genre.

eAs a general rule, third seasons of TV shows can be terrific. The writers have hit their stride, the cast has a relative amount of job protection, everyone is anxious to stretch, and if we're lucky, erudite without being smarty-pants. The Simpsons: The Complete Third Season (Fox, $49.98) is when fans and critics first started mumbling about “best TV show ever”: Krusty reunites with his rabbi father, the Flaming Moe is developed, and Homer's long-lost brother (Danny DeVito) pulls into Springfield. Someone in your office knows every line of every one of these by heart. As always, the episodes haven't looked this colorful since first airing. Extras include a Maggie translator, commentary from the writers, and audio outtakes.

HBO's Mr. Show: The Complete Third Season ($34.98) is brilliance cut down before it could flower, a short-lived sketch comedy show born of Los Angeles' alternative comedy scene. It's addicting and smart - and now, retrospectively something of a cult classic. Bob Odenkirk and David Cross developed a comedy Ulysses, letting sketches ramble into sketches, developing one bit as far as it can go, then leaping into another. A nasty parody of Robin Williams leads into a gag about a kid who listened to a song by rock group Titanica and leaped into a vat of acid and now wants to hang out backstage. No, maybe it's a mob satire (“Fagetaboutit! 24 is the highest number!”) that branches into a commercial for two little girls who can be hired to show up and deliver horrible news - or maybe it's vice versa.

NEW ON VIDEO, NEVER PLAYED TOLEDO: Chasing Papi (A broad, dumb romantic comedy notable because it's the first time a studio actively courted a Latino audience; but it turns out Latino moviegoers hate bad movies as much as other moviegoers.) Levity (An impressive cast, including Billy Bob Thornton, Morgan Freeman, and Kirsten Dunst, do hard time in a self-important, absurd morality tale about a reformed felon trying to make amends with the sister of his victim, played by Holly Hunter).



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