Idlewild
R
Entertainment: +1
Acceptability: -4

Andr Benjamin, Antwan A. Patton, Paula Patton, Terrence Howard, Faizon Love, Malinda Williams, Cicely Tyson, Macy Gray, Ben Vereen, Bruce Bruce with Patti LaBelle and Ving Rhames. Written & directed by Bryan Barber.

Set against the backdrop of a 1930s southern speakeasy, Idlewild explores the lives of Percival (Benjamin), the club's shy piano player, and Rooster (Antwan Patton), the club's showy lead performer and manager. It is the feature film-directing debut for Bryan Barber, the award-winning director and longtime OutKast music video collaborator, and includes dance sequences choreographed by three-time Tony winner Hinton Battle.

I liked the cinematography. Beautifully and creatively done. Director of photography Pascal Rabaud should receive an Oscar nod. I love movies about this era and co-star Terrence Howard (Hustle & Flow, Crash) is one of my favorite actors. Alas, the idiom If you cant say something nice, dont say anything at all is not one the film reviewer is able to live by. Believe me, I hate doing this, but here goes.

First, why set a piece in the ragtime-influenced era and then virtually ignore that style of music? Its the 1930s, with 1930s clothes, 1930s automobiles, and 1930s speakeasies. The mood is set for jazz. But the music that pours forth is, get this, rap. Or hip-hop. Whatever they call that stuff. Why? Because the two male leads are rapsters, thats why. This isnt a movie; its a two-hour showcase for the musicians. It is virtually a theatrical version of a rap video, complete with backup dancers thrusting their bottoms up and down much like a food processor set on Grind.

The choreography has some panache, but again, it take its energy from the gyrating thighs and booties of the scantily clad dancers, each of whom looks as if she had spent the early days of her career pole dancing.

Actually, writer/director Bryan Barbers good cinematic intentions include some interesting visuals, but the choice of placing MTVs stylistic sensibilities over a mosaic of that remarkable period failed to connect with me. Perhaps he will be congratulated for this effort by other critics, but I was let down by the golden opportunity of reminding a younger generation of their musical roots. Instead, we get the anachronistic use of both hip-hop and something akin to B-bop. One scene, one that seems separate from the rest of the film, has a lead character waking to a cacophony of cuckoo clocks and suddenly doing a musical number before hes brushed his teeth. I guess I wouldnt mind so much if he were Nat King Cole. You know, someone who actually had a vocal range.

Okay, okay, Im a white guy who detests hip-hop. But music styles aside, the films greatest disappointment is the lack of emotional punch. All the elements of drama are here, but both plot and subplot are done by the numbers, too familiar and lacking any real passion or resonance. When one main character is killed (and believe me, you see it coming from afar) that persons death serves no other apparent reason than to set off a melancholy song. That person is actually sung to while being prepared on the mortuary slab. I kid you not.

Believe it or not, I was looking forward to this film, but was let down by its profane, exploitive and crude clichs. Even its spiritual moment, with the legendary Cicely Tyson giving a Bible and a moral to Rooster, seems untrue. Indeed, it would be stretching it to call this effort a morality tale; theres just too much vulgarity and brutality to justify the last-minute flowery redemption.

A good video alternative would be the PG-rated Ragtime. Set in 1906, the story interweaves the glorious optimism of a young America with the story of a young black man seeking justice. Though I must suggest caution as there are a few objectionables (a sex scene and some brief language), Ragtime touches the heart, teaches a lesson and contains an incredible score by Randy Newman.

Preview Reviewer: Phil Boatwright
Distributor: Universal

Summary
Crude Language: There are several erotic dance sequences, some rather graphic violence, and much coarse, obscene and profane language. Most of the crudest language and innuendo comes from one supporting character. A black man himself, he uses the N- word several times.
Obscene Language: 14 s-words, one from a kid; 3 f-words; several uses of the word ass and a few other minor expletives (damns, hells).
Profanity: At least 14 GDs.
Violence: Three bloody shoot outs and at least three people are killed by gun shots. There are a couple of brutal beatings. Blood: Two bloody beatings
Sexual Intercourse: Three sex situations outside marriage, though no nudity, the scenes are somewhat graphic.
Nudity: A woman is seen running topless.
Homosexual Conduct: None
Sexually Suggestive Action/Dialog: Several crude sexual conversations.
Drug Abuse: One scene we see people hiding, smoking pot.
Other: None
Running Time: 120 minutes
Intended Audience: Adults and Older Teens

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