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Review: Idlewild

A cinematic echo of 2003’s double album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, Idlewild is two separate movies in one.

Photo: Universal Pictures

A cinematic echo of 2003’s double album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, OutKast’s long-delayed 1930s-set musical Idlewild is two separate movies in one, with stars André Benjamin and Antwan “Big Boi” Patton doing their own thing in barely connected storylines custom-crafted for each’s distinctive persona. With its headlining duo only sharing screen time on three very brief occasions, writer-director Bryan Barber’s feature debut proves to be a mess afflicted with serious schizophrenia, a condition due not just to its leads’ apparent refusal to appear together except when absolutely necessary, but also to its awkward hybridization of ‘30s fashion and music with contempo hip-hop flash. Dapper suits and lively, horn-layered musical numbers are the order of the day in this split-personality song-and-dance affair, though adherence to period authenticity is flaky at best, a fact immediately established when Big Boi’s Rooster calls a club bouncer “pimp,” proceeds to have a conversation in which the n-word is casually tossed about, and then hits the stage in one of his trademark fur coats. Such a lack of faithfulness to its Prohibition era, however, is a minor deficiency when compared to its more glaring structural and stylistic partitions, whether it be André and Big Boi’s predictably different soundtrack contributions, or the fact that its dual plots—about lifelong friends Rooster and mortician/Cab Calloway-wannabe Percival’s (Benjamin) troubles with a gangster (Terrence Howard) and a siren (Paula Patton), respectively—have been dissonantly grafted together. Big Boi’s narrative half neatly conforms to his image as a tough, nattily dressed ladies man, while Andre’s portion casts the idiosyncratic crooner as a soulful, introspective romantic. However, as with nearly every one of Barber’s juxtapositions and stabs at intercutting between visually parallel incidents, there’s no thematic harmony between the tale’s various segments. Similar discord afflicts Idlewild’s pacing, which—despite Barber’s punchy editing of Big Boi’s boisterous showstoppers—is consistently clumsy with regard to both individual scenes (like an abruptly-concluded “Ms. Jackson”-ish tune by Andre and some chirping cuckoo clocks) and the film as a whole (piling on songs at certain points, then becoming lethargically “dramatic” for long stretches). Factor in across-the-board bland performances, heaps of empty hustle and bustle, and one off-kilter ballad from Percival to a corpse, and the result is a middling musical mishmash that can’t keep a beat.

Cast: André Benjamin, Antwan "Big Boi" Patton, Paula Patton, Terrence Howard, Faizon Love, Malinda Williams, Cicely Tyson, Macy Gray, Ben Vereen, Bruce Bruce, Patti LaBelle, Ving Rhames Director: Bryan Barber Screenwriter: Bryan Barber Distributor: Universal Pictures Running Time: 120 min Rating: R Year: 2006 Buy: Video, Soundtrack

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