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If Goodfellas and Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! were haphazardly spliced together, the end result might be something like Idlewild.

Chronometrophobia

Benjamin  has Cab Calloway dreams
Benjamin has Cab Calloway dreams

To its credit, Idlewild isn’t a vapid vanity piece like Mariah Carey’s Glitter or the Village People’s Can’t Stop the Music.

Quite the contrary, Idlewild is an ambitious, great looking movie that also can’t be knocked as simply an extended OutKast music video. However, thanks in part to its outsized agenda, the movie occasionally makes a jarring transition from high drama to musical sequence. Case in point: after a grisly double murder, the movie immediately cuts to a song about the fear of clocks.

Whoa. Then again, in Idlewild, people swing dance to hip-hop.

Setting aside the movie’s uneven tone and choppy storytelling, the songs are almost uniformly very well done, which is to be expected from one of the premiere acts in hip-hop. As Andre Benjamin and Antwan Patton, they take credit as the film’s stars. As Andre 3000 and Big Boi, the seemingly constantly-at-odds duo takes credit as the film’s music supervisors.

Unfortunately, at two hours, Idlewild is a butt-breaker of a quasi-epic that tackles gangsters, moonshine, infidelity, stage fright, loving mothers, hurtful fathers, death, dreams, and hip-hop; all circa the 1930s in Idlewild, Georgia.

Angel of Idlewild

The story is pretty unwieldy and unfocused, but it’s centered around two main characters.

One is Percival (Andre Benjamin), the loyal, shy son of a mortician who has dreams of writing songs that rock the house like Cab Calloway’s do. The other is his childhood friend, Rooster (Big Boi… er, Antwan Patton), who is the total opposite. He’s a rambunctious character, a smarty with a knack for figures – both numerical and female.

The film starts with narration by Percival as he explains how all the world’s a stage and everybody’s merely an actor looking for their role in life. It’s an oft-repeated cliché and, unfortunately, Idlewild is riddled with similar clichés.

Looking for a nightly escape from the drudgery of corpse beautification, Percival lands a gig as a pianist at the club frequented by Rooster. It’s a noisy, raucous booze hall called the Church. Too bad for Percival, he’s such a shy cuss and uneasy with the women, he’s more apt to puke when put in the spotlight than show the talent that’s burning in the depths of his soul.

As for Rooster, he’s got a wife and five kids, but that’s hardly a reason to stop philandering and the perpetual pursuit of a quick buck.

The two are from different sides of the track and the movie repeatedly emphasizes the different directions their lives have taken.

It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp

The painfully shy one is well-meaning and ambitious, but all his efforts have been directed inward thanks to his domineering father (Ben Vereen, All That Jazz), who’s essentially a walking, talking cliché spouting lines like, “Your pride is in your work.”

On the other hand, the womanizing Rooster gets caught up in a sordid tale of murder and greed; thanks to a violent turn of events, Rooster finds himself running the Church. He has no problem absorbing the club’s income, but assuming the debt is another matter.

Unfortunately for Rooster, he finds himself answering to a punk named Trumpy (Terrence Howard, Hustle & Flow). For Trumpy, there’s no argument that a gun can’t answer.

Other colorful characters include Sunshine Ace (Faizon Love, The Fighting Temptations), the heavyset owner of the Church, and Spats (Ving Rhames, the Mission: Impossible movies), one of Ace’s business partners. Rhames is sporting hair in this one and he looks disturbingly like a buffed up Billy Dee Williams.

Thrown into the mix is the radiant Angel Davenport (Paula Patton, Hitch). Well, she says she’s Angel Davenport, but in the story’s sloppiest subplot, she’s actually a wannabe named Sally B. Shelly masquerading as Angel (who in “reality” is played by Patti LaBelle; she apparently makes no effort whatsoever to notify the Church of her inability to make it to the club).

More importantly – and no offense should be taken here – but Paula Patton is one incredible hottie and it would be virtually impossible to mistake her for Ms. LaBelle and vice versa. It’s a gaping plot hole that could have easily been rewritten in a more sensible fashion, but as it stands, Sally takes the stage with Percival and the two hit it off, strike up a romance and… Well, this is Idlewild. Happy endings are hard to find in Prohibition-era Georgia.

Speakerboxxx

Perhaps the most pressing question regarding this project is who has the better acting chops, Andre 3000 or Big Boi?

It’s not much of a contest, really. Andre Benjamin manages the nice trick of playing the understated mortician’s son who blossoms into a stage star. Benjamin also has the benefit of more acting experience than his hip-hop partner (Benjamin was pretty good in Be Cool, an overlooked satire of the music industry).

Also, Big Boi seems most loose and comfortable when he’s acting with Andre. Oddly enough, Antwan Patton stiffens up like a body in Percival’s basement when he’s around women and on stage.

They’ve surrounded themselves with plenty of top-notch performers, which only makes Big Boi look all the more wooden, but they do get bonus points for trying to make a legitimate movie with something to say.

What exactly this movie is trying to say is another matter. It doesn’t particularly glorify violence, but there is a lot of it and many times its treated with a rather cartoon-like mentality in which pistols seemingly have a never -supply of bullets.

After a rough, violent ride and plenty of ups and downs, the movie’s closing line is simply another cliché, that when you’re in the spotlight you’ve got to give it your best.

Well, OutKast have been given the spotlight in this movie and they certainly give it their all. But their director and cohort in music videos, Bryan Barber, should have sought out some assistance in punching up the story.

For all its artful flourishes (including fanciful animated sheet music in which the notes dive off the page when Percival’s father throws the pages into the fireplace), this is one movie that could have been so much better if it simply had more of a message to share.

  • Allan: The titles at the end of the movie said something like a tribute to Sally B. Shelley, the breath-taking beauty in the movie. Was she a real person? Was the event in the movie similar to some event in real life? Do you have a answer to this? Please drop an email to me with an answer if you know.

    Thanks,

    Allan September 3, 2006 reply
  • Lips: I think that Idlewild was a very good movie. It was not like the typical Hollywoood movie that we always see. Dre and Big Boi should really get their props for this one. Neither one of them said that they were Denzel or Wesley, so get off their backs about being stiff actors and so forth. These two Brothers are multi-multi-talented and that can't be taken away from them. Stop hating and get your face up on the big screen. I bet when you go out nobody knows who you are. Be more positive. You are a stiff!!! September 6, 2006 reply
  • Ca\'Laurie: Who is the real Sally B. Shelly?

    Paula (Patton, Angel Pavenport): Bryan Barber’s great-grandmother
    December 10, 2006 reply
  • Jesse Oliver: The first thing you were wrong about is the music type. I hear a lot of FUNK and other music genre in it. Compare them to hip hop and you will hear the differance 2nd Its comedy in a violent ara setting, the enjoyment of being taken by suprise by the STARS ability to put together a masterpiece of an eclectic preformance. And yes thee are already stars, have you checked out their past performances in music and video January 3, 2007 reply
  • tarnita carter: This movie was absolutely fantastic!!! It had everything that exist in movies starring your well-known actors and actresses. Think about it. Outkast is very unique and I believe they are awesome music and movie producers. Personally I have watched the movie 11 times. I watch it every night before I go to bed. The song "Moving Cool" is an ultimate theme song. They went from the 1930's to rappin in the new era such as 2007. January 18, 2007 reply
  • Juicy: I also loved the movie. These two are so talented. The meer fact that their music was compatible with the 1930's theme was fantastic! I'm not one for musicals, but I can watch this all day. I was very happy with Andre and Big Boi's performance and hope they're able to do great art like this again. I will agree the neverending bullets was a bit much but overall, well done fellas. January 19, 2007 reply
    • Yvette Nixon: I absolutely love Idlewild, it is my favorite, the dress, dancing, the entertainment, the director did a wonderful job. June 28, 2015 reply
      • Wilma: I agree. LOVE this movie. It's one of my fav "Good Time" movies and I watch it every chance I get due to the dancing, music, clever ways of blending, the plot and whole 9. Your statements were incorrect Re: confusing Patton w LaBelle. One with moderate knowledge of the limited detail / exposure given to "colored" (label of that day) acts and establishments in that day would know that Paula Patton's character had plenty of time to get established before getting found out. July 12, 2015 reply