By Stephen M. Silverman
June 19, 2003 10:00 AM

Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera opened their “Justified & Stripped Tour” with a three-night stand at Los Angeles’s Staples Center this week, and critics taking in the performance were not particularly kind.

The tour is scheduled to play 45 cities eventually, down from an original 60, and sluggish ticket sales are said to be forcing the show to move from arenas to smaller theaters.

Then there is the critical reaction to the show. After dismissing Aguilera, 22, altogether and calling her act “tedious” and her stage persona “uncertain,” longtime Los Angeles Times pop music critic Robert Hilburn actually had some good words for Timberlake, 21, considering “him born for the stage (with) the savvy instincts to put together a show that works.

“Rather than make himself the constant center of attention, he was comfortable enough at times simply to be part of a talented ensemble,” says Hilburn.

Those opinions were not shared by the Orange County Register’s Ben Wener, who wrote, “I’d favor Aguilera’s sex-appeal feast over Timberlake’s club jam. … Christina is simply a more well-rounded entertainer.”

As for Timberlake: “More and more he seems to be the new George Michael … Justin had two modes — all white (and ready for a workout) and all black (and ready to rumble) — while his stage show ran out of ideas after 20 minutes.”

Darryl Morder, in the Hollywood Reporter, sums it up by calling “Justified & Stripped,” “more a case of egofied and cluttered.”

Timberlake’s voice? “Whiny and thin.” Aguilera’s numbers? “Too often swathed in bloated arrangements.”