Sunday, August 27, 2006

Idlewild Not Nearly As Bad As Everyone Says It Is

My biggest disappointment with Outkast’s new film Idlewild is unfortunately the one thing I never thought would be disappointing: the music. Having managed to avoid reading any reviews that would spoil the musical content of the movie, I was expecting it to be filled with brand new songs to complement the lavish production numbers I’d read descriptions of. Instead, many of the songs are either previously released or slightly retooled versions of previously released songs, some as old as 2000’s Stankonia. Not that this made the music bad by any means, it was just disappointing to hear a lot less new material than I was expecting.

Otherwise, Idlewild is a pretty solidly entertaining movie. Yes, as you’ve no doubt read in other reviews, Andre and Big Boi aren’t onscreen together much at all. Yes, Andre is sullen and reserved for the majority of the movie. But the story, while filled with clichés and stock characters, is still interesting enough to pass the time between the songs, and the acting is surprisingly solid. Big Boi is a particular revelation, as his attempts at reading dialogue in things like Outkast’s videos and Chappelle’s Show have always seemed forced to me, but it looks like somebody might have finally sprung for some acting lessons. As mentioned before, Andre’s character is reserved to the point of neurosis, but as was no doubt the intention this gives him a chance to actually act instead of just mug for the camera.

Paula Patton manages to infuse her performance with just the right amount of hokey 1930s ticks to remind you what period the movie takes place in without being ridiculous (although she tends to lose the affectations as the story unfolds). Macy Gray steals the show whenever she’s onscreen, and Terrence “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp” Howard projects a decent amount of oily menace beyond his unfortunate haircut while filling the same character slot that Morris Day did in Purple Rain. To help legitimize Idlewild as a film rather than just a rap group’s vanity project we get Ving Rhames, Ben Vereen, Patti LaBelle and Cicely Tyson providing some old school gravitas that only feels slightly forced.

As disappointing as the music can be, the visuals are that much more impressive, from the costumes and sets to the choreography and wacky digital effects. And although I've read lots of critics dissing the direction and editing I thought both were handled pretty well, particularly the editing, which manages to keep up the pace even during the quiet "boring" parts without making you feel like you're having a seizure. Even still, it runs a bit too long -- about Superman Returns long -- so be prepared to do a little squirming and possibly some watch-checking. But really, give it a chance on a big screen – it’s not nearly as bad as everyone says it is.


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