Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh

For a synthetic exercise in career-building, this road movie aimed at barely adolescent girls isn't as bad as it might be until the ludicrous finale pushes it firmly into the realm of pure piffle. Designed to facilitate prefabricated pop tart Britney Spears's conquest of the entertainment world, it contains some surprisingly sweet give-and-take between the three lead actresses, even if Spears invariably gets the lion's share of the attention. And while Spears is no Meryl Streep, she also isn't Pia Zadora — at the very least, she can convincingly play a blandly pretty teenager unaccustomed to independent thought. Alabama 10-year-olds Lucy, Mimi and Kit bury a box of knickknacks representing their ambitions, vowing to reclaim it when they graduate high school. Eight years later, the girls have drifted apart: Mimi (Taryn Manning) is a pregnant outcast, cruelly labeled "trailer trash"; gorgeous Kit (Zoe Saldana) is engaged and rules the school's most popular clique; and valedictorian Lucy (Spears, of the unnaturally white teeth) is the perpetual good girl about to abandon her dreams of singing because her hard-working daddy (Dan Aykroyd) wants her to study medicine. But they retrieve the box anyway, and Mimi — who always dreamed of getting away — announces that pregnancy or no, she's going to Los Angeles for a cattle-call audition of new singers. If the others want to join Mimi and mysterious dreamboat Ben (Anson Mount), the guy with the ride, they can. Lucy and Kit demur but show up the next morning, Lucy driven by the need to meet the Arizona-based mother (Kim Cattrall) who abandoned her as a toddler, and Kit because she's desperate to see her fiancé, who's attending a California college. Along the way, the girls revitalize their friendship, share secret heartaches and declare themselves strong, beautiful women who can make anything they want of their lives. They also discover that Ben's scary reputation (he shot a man in Reno just to watch him die, or some such) is greatly exaggerated; in fact, he's such a sweetie that he can spend days in close quarters with three nubile hotties and not make a move on any of them. The film's mealy-mouthed messages about feminine empowerment will almost certainly fall on deaf ears, since even 11-year-olds know Spears's power resides largely in her taut torso. They're also too sophisticated to listen without laughing as their idol pretends the words to her hit "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman" are girlish poetry scribbled in her diary.