Andre Benjamin, Antwan Patton, Terrence Howard, Ving Rhames
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
|What happens when you mix together Andre 3000, Big Boi, Antwan Patton and Andre Benjamin?
2003's stellar double album "Speakerboxx/The Love Below" proved that the above combination could produce lively, entertaining, unpredictable and exciting music that could please even the most finicky music lover.
Then, there's the long awaited "Idlewild."
Written and directed by longtime OutKast video director Bryan Barber, "Idlewild" is an ambitious musical journey through a 1930's nightclub called "Church."
Why "OutKast" continues to exist is beyond me, as their chemistry is indistinguishable, their styles glaringly different and their efforts to avoid each other embarrassingly obvious throughout the film. While their 2003 release may have entertained, there was no mistaking it was a joint release by two individual artists. It was NOT an "OutKast" release.
"Idlewild," as well, is two films in one. In the first, Rooster (Patton) is a flashy, headlining club singer whose cheatin' way is building a wall between him and his wife (Malinda Williams), who is left at home to take care of their several children.
In the second, Percival (Benjamin) is a mortician by day and bashful piano player by night at the club with Rooster. Controlled by his grief-stricken, alcoholic father (Ben Vereen), Percival is, allegedly, Rooster's lifelong friend and confidante.
The two films do frequently intertwine as club owner Ace (Faizon Love) and gangster Spats (Ving Rhames) are removed from the picture by Spats' up and coming right-hand man, Trumpy (Terrence Howard).
When Rooster promptly seizes control of the club, Trumpy fights back while Percival falls for a mysterious club singer (Paula Patton).
It feels weird to even spend time explaining the plot, because "Idlewild" isn't really dependent upon it. Much like their 2003 release, "Idlewild" is merely an excuse for Patton and Benjamin to showcase their wide and varied talents to the backdrop of a cinematic love story of sorts.
"Idlewild" often feels like a mix between Baz Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge" and Prince's "Under the Cherry Moon." In this case, give Luhrmann's award-winning film an urban, hip-hop soundtrack and set it in 1930's Georgia and you would end up with something remarkably close to "Idlewild." Much like Luhrmann's film, Barber throws in a melting pot of musical melody ranging from smooth jazz to hip-hop to soul to, well, you get the point.
Then, take Prince's production design for "Under the Cherry Moon" and you will have a fairly firm grasp on what to expect from "Idlewild."
While the musical stylings offered in "Idlewild" are varied and entertaining, they are also, at times, excessive, self-indulgent and mind-numbingly boring.
Who ever thought I'd refer to an OutKast project as boring?
Watching "Idlewild" will give you an all new appreciation for Luhrmann's sense of pacing and awareness of the viewing needs of his audience. "Idlewild," on the other hand, is a jarring experience that so quickly shifts between eras, cinematography, genres and musical stylings that what first seemed like a unique vision ends up feeling like a chaotic mess.
Both Patton and Benjamin do a decent job in their respective roles, though they are fairly one-dimensional for the course of the film. The screen clearly loves Patton, and his musical numbers are among the film's highlights.
Both Malinda Williams and Paula Patton do a nice job, though Patton's character is almost eerily close to that of Kidman's from "Moulin Rouge." In his brief supporting role as club owner Ace, Faizon Love lights up the screen, though I will confess that at least once I found myself flashing back to his role as the Gimbel's manager in "Elf."
Terrence Howard again proves he's one of the best actors working today in his portrayal of Trumpy. Howard takes a one-dimensional role and brings it to life with a sizzling intensity that commands the screen.
Ben Vereen, Patti LaBelle, Cicely Tyson and Macy Gray show up in smaller, supporting roles. Both Vereen and LaBelle are shamefully wasted despite their extensive musical backgrounds, but Tyson, in a single scene, adds an emotional depth to the film that was woefully lacking.
A fast pace and wide array of musical arrangements can't hide the fact that "Idlewild" has a paper-thin script, shallow character development, jarring production design and nary a semblance of emotional depth. Style over substance can certainly work, but in this case style over substance is just plain irritating. Throw in the remarkably inane special effects of a talking rooster flask and dancing musical notes, and you have a film that tries to be all things to all people but ends up being almost nothing to anyone.
The film's production design is consistently and depressingly dark throughout much of the film, and ocasionally takes on extended periods of graininess that is difficult and irritating to watch
There are rumors going around that "Idlewild" is to be the swan song for the OutKast duo. While it is always sad to see a talented musical duo part ways, if "Idlewild" is symbolic of where their partnership has gone then, perhaps, a divorce is truly the best thing for all involved.
Hmmmm. Just had a funny thought. Instead of "Moulin Rouge," we could call this one "Moulin Rooster."
|© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic