Small World

Like a virgin

A few comparisons are warranted on the weighty issue of the Mandy Moore A Walk to Remember and Britney Spears Crossroads pop star film debuts, now showing locally:

Little Miss Smarty-Pants: Mandy plays a brainiac outcast, the preacher's daughter who tutors underprivileged kids for fun; you believe it, since she's dead boring. Britney, too, is at the top of her class; though music is her special gift, conserv-ative dad Dan Aykroyd is pressuring her to be a doctor (surely the medical profession would snap up this little genius in a heartbeat). All this brainpower has just plain tuckered poor Britney out: "Pop, I worked really hard to be the valedictorian," she says. Of course you did, honey.

The purity routine: Mandy has never had sex, and goodness knows she's not having any of that hanky-panky until she sees a ring, mister. Britney, um, has never had sex either, even if her booty moves like it's handled a few negotiations in its time.

The hottie co-star factor: Mandy's leading man is Shane West. Shane is a regular on TV's Once and Again, in which characters are given terribly serious black-and-white interludes to express their innermost thoughts directly to the viewers. And Shane, playing the town's scrawny excuse for a bad boy, is terribly serious here, too, as though he'd like nothing more than to turn to the camera and say, "When would you like to see me cry?" Britney, meanwhile, gets to lose her virginity to town bad boy Anson Mount, a rack of prime rib who looks as though he'd like nothing more than to turn to the camera and say, "When would you like my shirt to come off?" It's fun realizing that Britney is going to be deflowered by a hunk of beef named Mount. When Aykroyd asks Britney what she's doing with the stud, who has just driven her and her two friends cross-country, she replies innocently, "He just gave us a ride." Damn right, he did.

I feel a song coming on: How to work in a hit single when you're playing a virginal smarty-pants? Mandy appears in the annual school musical, where she sings to Shane, and then he kisses her. Britney sings a poem she wrote (yes, "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman") that Anson has set to music, and then he nails her.

Yes, but can she act? No, and no again. But where Mandy Moore seems to think she might get a Golden Globe because she's worn the same sweater for the entire film, Britney is relaxed enough to give you a Britney Spears movie, with all the pain and unintentional glee that means.

The winner and still champion: Britney Spears.

We can all rest easy now.

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