With "Criminal," Britney Spears has finally made a grimy sequel to her super-spy "Toxic" video, but with grocery store stick-ups instead of espionage. Once you make it past the awkward abusive relationship in the 90-second prologue -- if it feels like a perfume ad, it's because Spears is really showcasing her fragrance in the ladies room -- the video really takes off into the gray streets of London's Stoke Newington neighborhood. "Criminal" is a potent cocktail with equal parts urban "Badlands" and "9 1/2 Weeks".
The video could have been titled "'11 Bonnie & Clyde," a worthy successor to Eminem's "'99 Bonnie & Clyde" and Jay-Z's "'03 Bonnie & Clyde," but with Spears grabbing the criminal reins in the Clyde role. Spears' fun "I Wanna Go" gave hints that Spears was ready to break out after a series of dull music videos where it seemed like she was just being propped up against a green screen. (Our Amp colleague compared "Hold It Against Me" to "Weekend at Bernie's".) Here, she's actually physically and verbally interacting with other people, and it seems natural. On the close-ups, her eyes are locked in and engaged with the viewer. Best of all, Spears is once again behaving like the provocative pop star that was a controversial trailblazer before Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Rihanna came along.
If Spears is completely comfortable making out in bed and getting naked in the shower with cameras rolling, it's probably because her real-life boyfriend Jason Trawick -- with some awful and hopefully fake tattoos -- plays the role of her partner-in-crime. "Criminal" isn't perfect: There is still way too much product placement for cars and watches and perfumes, the "rain of bullets" ending was completely stolen shot-for-shot from Green Day's "21 Guns" video, and this short film -- it has opening and closing credits -- pretends to be more epic than it actually is. However, for almost six minutes, Spears finally lives up to her album title, "Femme Fatale".
Warning: Contains violence and nudity