The duo has tried to do something unique with Idlewild, a musical drama set in the 1930s. It wildly blends genres and eras, featuring a high-class cast and heavy visual tricks. The film is extraordinarily imaginative, often stylish and fun _ what else would you expect from co-stars and co-producers Andre Benjamin and Antwan A. Patton? _ and at times it can even be magical.
Ultimately, though, the pervading anachronism is just too jarring. The rich, deep visual texture becomes too overbearing. And the movie feels like it will just never end.
Bryan Barber, who directed OutKast’s videos for Hey Ya! and The Way You Move, writes and directs his first feature film here. But don’t expect anything like those phenomenally catchy, painfully overplayed hits.
The songs in Idlewild (and the recently released accompanying soundtrack disc) include a mystifying mix of rap, swing, jazz and R&B. Maybe they work when you’re listening to them on your headphones, but on stage, in film form, they come off as strangely inert. And that’s the last word you’d ordinarily use for such a vibrant, dynamic group.
The story itself, rooted firmly in longtime showbiz cliches, isn’t terribly compelling either.
Childhood friends Percival (Benjamin, aka Andre 3000) and Rooster (Patton, aka Big Boi) have long dreamed of stardom while growing up in small-town Idlewild, Ga. Percival, the quiet one, plays piano and writes songs when he isn’t helping his mortician father (Ben Vereen) with the family business. Rooster, the troublemaker, hams it up as a song-and-dance man to the increasing frustration of his wife (Malinda Williams), who’d rather have him stay at home nights with their five children.
Everything changes with the arrival of two people at the Church, the speakeasy where they perform and where dancers take over the floor with awe-inspiring acrobatic choreography, the work of Tony winner Hinton Battle. (Macy Gray plays another of the regular singers at the club, and it is sort of a hoot to see her perform in a slinky, sparkly red evening gown with gloves and pin curls instead of her usual T-shirts and wild-child ‘fro.)
One is crime boss Spats (Ving Rhames), who says he’s getting out of the business and offers to sell a piece of it to the Church’s owner, the bombastic Ace (Faizon Love). Standing alongside Spats is his second-in-command, Trumpy, played with supple, subtle menace by the always-terrific Terrence Howard. (Idlewild could use a lot more of him; he helps ground things, provides substance when the whole endeavour feels just too unreal.)
The other is the dazzlingly beautiful Angel Davenport (Paula Patton, no relation to Antwan), a high-maintenance singer who’s scheduled to perform for the next four weeks, but who’s carrying a big secret. Angel has her sights set on the bright lights of Chicago and New York, naturally, and once she and Percival form a romantic connection through their music, she begs him to ditch his roots and hitch his wagon to her star.
Andre 3000 is nuanced enough to make his shy, conflicted character believable (and ever the dapper dresser in real life, he wears the tailored period clothes flawlessly). But Big Boi is supposed to be the bad boy of the two, and the character just isn’t engaging enough for him to make it work. Even a spiritual encounter on a dirt road with Cicely Tyson doesn’t help flesh him out.
Percival, borrowing from Shakespeare, repeatedly says throughout the film’s prodigious use of voiceover: "All the world’s a stage and the men and women merely players." Too often, it feels like the men and women of Idlewild are simply playing an elaborate game of dress-up.
By: Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic