Grade: D+

Rabid fans of the first “American Idol” series may enjoy seeing the winner and runner-up cavort together in what amounts to a modern “Beach Party” movie–especially if they’re girls of about the age of twelve. The rest of us will probably watch “From Justin to Kelly” with some nostalgia for the simple vulgarity of “The Real Cancun.” Suffocatingly sweet and wholesome, this colorful but decidedly brain-dead “musical comedy,” as the press materials call it, is about the quality of live-action Saturday morning network TV. As a musical, it’s the sort of show that, if produced on Broadway, would close on opening night. It won’t last much longer in multiplexes.

The “plot,” to be kind in describing it, has three girls from Texas–sensible Kelly (Kelly Clarkson), catty Alexa (Katherine Bailess) and good-natured Kaya (Anika Noni Rose)–going to south Florida for spring break. There Kelly immediately attracts the attention of Justin (Justin Guarini), a gangly college student who promotes parties along with his buddy, slick, would-be stud Brandon (Greg Siff); the guys have brought along with them a dorky pal, Eddie (Brian Dietzen), who plans to meet the girl of his dreams, with whom he’s been chatting on the internet. Much of what follows has the insecure Alexa plotting to keep Kelly and Justin apart and snaring him for herself. (Hate to say it, but she’s a real unpleasant character.) Meanwhile Kaya links up with Carlos (Jason Yribar), a likable local waiter, and Eddie offers low-comedy interludes by constantly missing his soul-mate and running into bad luck. (The makers even trot out the antediluvian sun-burn routine for him at one point.) Brandon, on the other hand, keeps getting ticketed by a female cop (Theresa San Nicholas), with whom we know he’ll eventually wind up.

The drab dialogue and recycled situations provided by Kim Fuller certainly won’t carry this mid-spring multi-couple roundelay along, so much of the brief 80-minute running-time is given over to songs. The new ones are of the ultra-bland easy pop variety, melodically about the level of elevator music and in terms of lyrics uninventive and repetitive; nobody’s likely to leave the auditorium humming or singing them. There are a few larger dance numbers, mostly with kids gyrating on the beach in massed formations, but only the last of them–to the overly familiar “That’s The Way I Like It”–is likely to hold your attention for long. Kelly and Justin do their solos and duets well enough, and in the non-musical segments they aren’t as stiff as you might expect; but they hardly have the charisma to set the screen afire, either. The rest of the cast do what’s demanded of them–Siff is suitably Eddie Haskellish, and Rose has some charm–but they’re not helped by the disjointed nature of the plotting; whatever Bailess might have to offer is sabotaged by the complete arbitrariness of her character’s actions. (Her solo song and dance is probably the worst and most pointless of the bunch, too.) Parents will be glad to know that though the various couples link up properly at the close, nobody goes beyond dancing and–gasp!–handholding. Nor is there any violence to speak of in the movie–expect for that done to the art of music in some of the songs.

Physically the production is hardly top-drawer, but the technical details are mostly respectable, and together director Robert Iscove and editors Casey O’Rohrs and Tirsa Hackshaw have minimized the dead spots and kept the pace reasonably sprightly. But all that means, in the final analysis, is that the picture isn’t as bad as it might have been. “From Justin to Kelly” is just a mediocre piece of fluff, and the fact that it could have been worse isn’t much consolation.