By Leah Rozen
February 25, 2002 12:00 PM


Britney Spears, Anson Mount, Zoë Saldana, Taryn Manning, Dan Aykroyd

And this year’s award for best acting by a midriff goes to Spears, for her screen debut in Crossroads. Not since Maria Montez (of 1944’s Cobra Woman and other camp classics) flounced about in island girl getups has a bare waistline drawn such admiring attention as it does in this congenial if unexceptional teen coming-of-age drama.

Spears, the honey-blonde singer who, since 1999, has ruled the pop charts with suggestive teenybopper hits (“Oops!…I Did It Again”), plays Lucy, an 18-year-old Georgian. After graduating as her high school’s valedictorian (mercifully, we’re spared her speech), she heads cross-country with two childhood friends (Saldana and Manning). Lucy’s objective: a visit to the mother (Kim Cattrall) who abandoned her and her dad (Aykroyd) when she was 3. The movie’s objective: female bonding with elementary school paste as Lucy and buds yak about old times and sex, earn cash warbling at a karaoke bar (one guess who sings lead), tipple and confront impending adulthood. Lucy, a virgin, also links up with a caring ex-con (Mount). He sets a poem of hers to music (“I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman,” Spears’s new hit single), which beats roses any day.

First seen in bra, panties and socks enthusiastically lip-synching to Madonna‘s “Open Your Heart,” Spears doesn’t embarrass herself here, but she’s rarely more than pleasantly bland. Making a more vivid impression is Manning as Lucy’s pregnant pal; she comes across as a junior Amy Madigan, complete with scratchy voice and a ferocious energy. As Lucy’s beau, Mount maintains an air of resigned patience, like a male ballet dancer awaiting the next lift. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: She’s not a joke, not yet an actress

Collateral Damage

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Cliff Curtis

Playing a kinder, gentler action hero in Collateral Damage, Schwarzenegger actually tears up at times and, rather than relying on firepower to blow away the bad guys, bites the ear off one of them. He then spits it out, as if the taste offended his delicate palate as much as this pointless revenge fantasy does ours.

Scheduled for release last October, this routine action thriller by director Andrew Davis (The Fugitive) was pushed back after the Sept. 11 attack rendered the plot—a fireman (Schwarzenegger) loses his beloved wife and son when terrorists bomb an L.A. office building—distasteful at the time. The fireman then turns vigilante, traveling to Colombia incognito (just another Austrian-accented hulk), where he plans to whack the guerrilla leader (Curtis) responsible for the carnage. The premise is as plausible as a family member of a World Trade Center victim sneaking into Afghanistan to single-handedly take out Osama bin Laden. As for Schwarzenegger, he looks pained throughout and furrows his brow before launching into any speech longer than a sentence. Some things haven’t changed. (R)

Bottom Line: Hasta la vista, baby

Return to Never Land

Animated, with voices by Harriet Owen, Blayne Weaver, Corey Burton

No, this is not the Michael Jackson story. The Never Land revisited in this pallid movie is the island retreat where the forever young Peter Pan and his band of lost boys hang out, gloriously free of adult supervision. For those in need of a refresher course on Peter Pan, the 1953 animated original, Walt Disney Pictures is releasing—big surprise—the DVD and video versions at the same time as this new sequel. How do the two compare? It’s harder to believe in the magic, much less jealous little Tinker Bell, the second time around.

In Never Land, Wendy’s feisty daughter Jane teams up with Peter, travels to Never Land and becomes the first female member of the lost boys. She helps save Peter from the metallic clutches of the still evil Captain Hook. The plot is predictable, the humor is tepid, and the new songs, by Jonatha Brooke and They Might Be Giants, are wan. The whole could have used more fairy dust. (G)

Bottom Line: Calling all crocodiles


Judi Dench, Kate Winslet, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Bonneville

Based on two memoirs by British literary scholar John Bayley about his 40-year marriage to Irish-born novelist Iris Murdoch (who died in 1999), Iris cuts between scenes of the two as young lovers (Winslet and Bonneville) and in their later years (with Dench and Broadbent), when Murdoch’s brilliant mind was clouded by Alzheimer’s. The acting is tops—Broadbent, Dench and Winslet got Oscar nods—but Iris is larded with pretentious prattle (“She’s in her own world, perhaps what she has always wanted,” says Bayley), making it a mere exercise in highbrow voyeurism. (R)

Bottom Line: Doesn’t bloom