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Idlewild

Rated R, 120 min. Directed by Bryan Barber. Starring André Benjamin, Antwan A. Patton, Paula Patton, Terrence Howard, Ving Rhames, Faizon Love, Malinda Williams, Macy Gray, Ben Vereen, Cicely Tyson.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 25, 2006

Idlewild Like Charms Blow Pops, Idlewild, the highly anticipated film debut of hip-hop superstars OutKast (André 3000 and Big Boi, né Benjamin and Patton), is two candies in one. Apparently also derived from the confectionary template is this film's eye-popping and candy-colored hyper-stylization. Background items (notes on sheet music, a rooster emblem on a silver whisky flask) come alive, talk, dance, die, possibly to distract you from the fact that, really, not all that much is happening to the main characters, or at least nothing you haven't seen at least half a dozen times before in better films. The whole smorgasbord of treacly cliché is enough to give you a tummy ache in your head, but unlike those glorious Blow Pops of your youth, you can't blow this one up in the microwave or use it to bash your little sister on the noggin. Such is progress. OutKast has been operating as two separate and distinct musical personas for at least three years now, and Idlewild unwisely continues this trend into the cinematic realm. Set in the titular rural Georgia township during the mid-Thirties, director and screenwriter Barber (who has helmed sereral OutKast videos) mines every available seam of tired and truthless gangster-era obviousness. Benjamin plays aspiring pianoman and songwriter Percival, who, until very late in the film, seems destined to take up where his mortician father is leaving off. His childhood best friend Rooster (Patton), a scalawag of a different sort, is running moonshine at a local gin joint nicknamed the Church and ignoring his family in favor of cushier chorus-line behinds in his free time. While Percival soon falls head over soul patch for new star in the hood Angel (the luminous, impossibly leggy Paula Patton), Rooster is forced into a managerial position when the Church's owner is gunned down by scheming sneak thief Trumpy (Howard, like curdled butter on burnt toast). Neither one seems all that aware of the gravity of their situations, although that may have something to do with annoyingly inopportune musical numbers that creep up every now and then to little, if any, effect. (At one point there's mention of "CabCal," shorthand for Minnie-mooching legend Cab Calloway, and just for a little while you hope that the famous Harlem hoofer will appear in one form or another; it never happens.) Apart from a third-act backwoods showdown and an ensuing car chase with flivvers going ass over teacup down a dreary country lane as monstrous storm clouds gather overhead, Idlewild is utterly bereft of drama. There's melodrama galore, but none of it is anything you'll be humming on the way out of the theatre. Indeed, André 3000 and Big Boi seem to have tin ears all the way through this cluttered, busy mess. There are moments in Idlewild that resonate with the painful "if only" of missed opportunity, and more than a few that just make you scratch your head. It's like some wildly overlong music video, minus the sexy thump 'n' grind. It's all blow, no pop.
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