Monday, December 11, 2006


Andre Benjamin Idlewild Directed by Bryan Barber
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



Not being a rapper fan, I can’t identify with those who have a love for Outkast, the musicians responsible for the soundtrack (and much of the acting) in IDLEWILD. I do, however, occasionally enjoy rap-related films; 8-Mile was interesting, and Hustle & Flow I rate as one of my favorite films of 2005. But the cohesiveness of music and story held those two together, while the mish-mash of modern sounds, modern dance moves, and modern lyrics, clashed with the prohibition era time-frame of Idlewild.

Although some of the music was toe-tappingly enjoyable, the blurring choreographed dances made the film very stilted. Rushing from movement to movement with no rhyme and very little reason, the dances held no appeal. The only plus was the very well designed sets and the excellent period costumes.

The acting was also extremely sub-par when comparing Idlewild to other films of this genre (most notably
Moulin Rouge and Chicago). Although these two films were more white-washed (i.e., had more Caucasians than black folks), their even-handedness when it came to telling the story through characters and their songs held truer. Part of Idlewild’s problem obviously had to do with the main character, Percival.

Percival is played by Outkast member André Benjamin (Four Brothers). Although Benjamin is building his cinema repertoire, his acting skills often fall flat in Idlewild. His relationship with his father (legendary dance master Ben Vereen) is uninteresting and forced. Even his relationship with his best friend Rooster (Big Boi, another Outkast singer) feels unnatural from beginning to end. And Percival’s love interest Angel (Paula Patton, Deja Vu) is believably drawn into their blossoming relationship, while Percival himself again seems detached and disinterested. I think this is proof positive that good rappers do not necessarily make good actors. The exception to the acting was – no surprise – Terrence Howard (Hustle & Flow). Playing bad guy Trumpy, Howard oozed depravity in nearly every scene; a shining light surrounded by dreary performances.

No musical film review would be complete without mention of the music itself, too. As stated at the beginning, I have no previous knowledge of Outkast or their musical style. In fact, I’d never even heard of them prior to watching this, so I come into it fresh and without a sense of connection to the artists. That said, I don’t think I could listen to Outkast too long without going a bit bonkers. Their style is too disjointed and swings about in a very A-D-D fashion. Maybe it’s a sign of the times. Or maybe I’m just getting too old for this style. But I hesitate to label myself as an old sour-puss. I enjoyed Hustle & Flow so much that I bought the DVD and the soundtrack. Perhaps there is a bridge to be found between modern musicians and the aging baby-boomer like myself. Unfortunately, Idlewild ain’t it.

Click here for the Idlewild movie trailer!


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