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Can Justin Bieber be a movie star?

February 14, 2011 |  7:30 am

Even before Justin Bieber appeared onstage at the Grammys on Sunday night with Jaden Smith, setting minds racing about a "Karate Kid 2" appearance, it was becoming clear the movie star thing may actually fit the singer.

The weekend's box office proved that young audiences still want to see the swoop-haired one on the big screen even after they've already seen him pretty much everywhere else. Bieber's "Never Say Never" documentary came in a close second to Adam Sandler's "Just Go With It" with a $30.3-million gross, and may well end up in first place when the final numbers are tallied.

Of course concert movies have about as much to do with a star's box office potential as YouTube hits have to do with Oscars. Audiences want to see you do what you do well; they may not want to see you do something else. And teen pinup singers historically face a tough road at the multiplex. For every Mark Wahlberg, there are a lot more Donnie Wahlbergs.

But Biebs has some things going in his favor. The 16-year-old says he has a desire to act and has aligned himself with Will Smith (or is it the other way around?), which already puts him ahead of other young musicians trying to make the jump. He also showed he can handle the rigors of a publicity tour, and even allow some gentle ribbing, with appearances on "Saturday Night Live" and a Super Bowl commercial (though someone may need to institute a moratorium on his shout-outs to his fans).

And he may have the most important motivation when it comes to the film business: necessity. When Bieber's voice inevitably drops, acting may be not just a secondary option but the best option.

The Miley Cyrus comparisons came fast and furious in the weeks leading up to "Never Say Never." Cyrus may well turn out to be an apt template: After her movie performed well, Cyrus started booking the feature roles.

At this point the question may be less a matter of whether Bieber can land some big roles but what kind of actor he'll become when he does. Does he follow in the footsteps of Robert Pattinson and other tween idols, trying desperately to go beyond his brand only to repeatedly be put back in his place? Or does he take youthful music stardom to a more sophisticated, Justin Timberlake-like place? Either way, those feeling relief after this weekend that the Bieber big-screen hype is finally over may need to accept that it's only just beginning.

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Justin Bieber at the Grammys. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times


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