The film is set during spring break in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Texan singing waitress Kelly Taylor meets Pennsylvanian college student Justin Bell, and they fall for each other, and various romantic complications ensue. Kelly's friend Kaya falls in love with charming busboy Carlos; Kelly's other friend, Alexa, schemes to keep Justin and Kelly from meeting; Justin's friend Brandon is always getting on the wrong side of a sexy beach patrolwoman; and Justin's other friend, Eddie, tries to hook up with a cyber-pal.
Some theater chains threatened not to screen the film at all when distributor 20th Century Fox announced plans to rush it to VHS and DVD a mere six weeks after its opening weekend, but Fox ultimately relented and pushed the release date back a number of months. After the opening-weekend flop, Fox reinstated the original release schedule and the film was released via home media on August 26, 2003.
In its opening weekend, From Justin to Kelly grossed $2,715,848 in 2,001 theaters in the United States and Canada, ranking #11 at the box office. By the end of its run on July 24, 2003, the film had grossed $4,928,883 in the domestic box office. Based on a $12 million budget, the film was a box office bomb.
The film has a 10% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 63 reviews; the average rating is 2.7 out of 10. The consensus states: "A notorious stinker, From Justin to Kelly features banal songs, a witless plot, and non-existent chemistry between its American Idol-sanctioned leads." The film also has a score of 14 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 16 critics, indicating "overwhelming dislike".
Entertainment Weekly film critic Owen Gleiberman wrote in his review, "How bad is From Justin to Kelly? Set in Miami during spring break, it's like Grease: The Next Generation acted out by the food-court staff at SeaWorld."
The film is listed in Golden Raspberry Award founder John Wilson's book The Official Razzie Movie Guide as one of The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made.
The choreography was considered so bad that a special Golden Raspberry "Governor's Award" was created as an excuse to present the film with a Razzie. However, the film was better received by the Teen Choice Awards, as it was nominated for two Choice Movie Breakout Stars (for Guarini and Clarkson) and Choice Chemistry.
Time Magazine described the film as "a monstrous Idol movie musical that in the most generous light is the worst film so far this century". In a later interview, Clarkson admitted she only did the film because she was contractually obligated to do so: "I knew when I read the script it was going to be real, real bad, but when I won, I signed that piece of paper, and I could not get out of it."
Total Film magazine ranked the film at number 16 in their list of 66 Worst Movies Of All Time.
The DVD release includes an extended version of 90 minutes which has two new musical numbers, "From Me to You" and "Brighter Star", additional lyrics, more sensual choreography to "Wish Upon a Star", and a scene involving a "Dare to Be Bare" contest.
A commercial soundtrack with studio tracks was produced but remains unreleased due to the film's negative reception and unsatisfactory box office returns. However, a version of the song "Timeless", sung by Clarkson and Guarini, and recorded prior to the film, was included on Guarini's self-titled debut album. The tracks of the unreleased studio soundtrack can be found on various Clarkson fan sites. Two songs, "From Me to You" and "Brighter Star", did not appear in the theatrical release, but were added to the extended version DVD release. Clarkson also performed "The Bounce (The Luv)", and "Timeless" during her shared (with Clay Aiken) "Independent Tour" in 2003 with her male backup singer performing the male vocals on "Timeless".
Songs used in the film and soundtrack (in order of appearance):
- "I Won't Stand in Line" (Original artist: Reba McEntire)
- "Vacation" (Original artist: The Go-Go's)
- "The Bounce (The Luv)"
- "Brandon's Rap"
- "Forever Part of Me"
- "It's Meant to Be"
- "Timeless" (Also released on Guarini's debut CD Justin Guarini)
- "Brighter Star" (Extended version)
- "Wish Upon a Star"
- "Anytime" (Alternate version on Clarkson's debut CD Thankful)
- "Timeless (Reprise)"
- "From Me to You" (Extended version)
- "Anytime (Reprise)"
- "That's the Way (I Like It)" (Lyrically changed cover of original song by KC and the Sunshine Band)