Things I Learned Watching Idlewild


After hearing the absolute mess of the Idlewild album, I was expecting the movie to be some sort of grand, ridiculous art-spectacle, like the scenes in The Song Remains the Same where it cuts away from Led Zeppelin playing to show soft-focus unicorns. Well, it’s definitely ridiculous, but as Noz wrote here, it’s essentially a B-movie. It doesn’t really address the whole OutKast legend much, and it has absolutely nothing new to say about the tensions between the artist and the entertainer, which is fine with me. Beyond the admittedly bizarre concept of a rap movie that takes place in the 1920s, this is total standard-issue movie-movie stuff; we don’t get a single thing we haven’t seen before. There are weird little animated interludes, but they’re all there to entertain the kids who probably shouldn’t be watching the movie in the first place. In fact, the whole thing is pretty much a kids’ movie, except with cussing and minimal nudity and an Andre 3000 sex scene that takes place in a thunderstorm with lightning flickering and the couple slowly unbuttoning each other’s clothes. Director Bryan Barber has never seen a melodramatic movie cliche that he doesn’t want to steal, and there’s stuff in Idlewild that I can’t believe someone seriously had the audacity to put into a movie in 2006. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll just say that the only tired-ass film scene we don’t get is the one where someone does CPR on someone else while yelling “Don’t you die on me!” It’s crap, but it’s entertaining crap.

The movie made $5.7 million this past weekend, less than Accepted or Beerfest or Step Up. It did have the highest per-screen average of any movie this weekend, but it seems a bit weird to me that they couldn’t get the movie to open on more screens. I could be wrong, but it looks like a colossal brick from where I’m sitting. It’ll be interesting to see whether the soundtrack album manages to outsell Diddy’s girl-group Danity Kane this weekend, though it’s probably saying a lot that it’s even a question. So the era of OutKast as a world-conquering pop phenomenon may be coming to a close or at least an intermission, and this movie may be its final monument. If it is the last chapter in the group’s history, it’s an awfully weird one, but I guess that’s fitting.

Anyway, here are some things I learned watching Idlewild.

• The opening flashback about Big Boi and Andre’s characters as kids is a lot of fun in a Bugsy Malone sort of way, but it’s a shame that they couldn’t find two kids who look or sound anything like Big Boi or Andre.

• Macy Gray is looking more cracked-out every day; she’s rapidly approaching Nolte territory.

• All of the backstage characters at Church, the movie’s speakeasy, are totally broad and seriously annoying caricatures. It’s so not my place to be pointing this out, but there’s a disturbing minstrel-show shuck-and-jive undercurrent to a lot of these performances.

• Andre and Big Boi have both been decent in movies before (Andre in Four Brothers, Big Boi in ATL), but they’re both seriously wooden here. I don’t know if it’s the stiltedness of the script or the fact that it’s Barber’s first movie and he doesn’t know how to disguise bad acting or what, but it’s a pretty serious problem, especially since they’re both playing lead roles for the first time. There’s been a lot of hype around the fact that they only appear in a few scenes together, like it’s a sly tease, something for fans of the group to analyze endlessly. But the two of them have shockingly weak onscreen chemistry, which is especially weird when you think that they’ve been best friends since middle school or whatever; maybe Barber kept them apart just so it wouldn’t be too obvious. It certainly makes sense to keep them apart when you consider that they’ll both look better if they’re interacting with actual professional actors instead of each other. Big Boi at least manages to come off as being likable. Andre is the movie’s hero, and his character comes off looking like a total worm.

• Ving Rhames looks weird with hair.

• Onstage at Church, Andre plays a few seconds of “Makes No Sense at All,” and people throw bottles at him. If I was at a bar and someone tried to play that song, I might throw a bottle too.

• Noz already pointed this out, but all of the songs that Big Boi performs come from Speakerboxxx, and all of them, especially “Bowtie,” work shockingly well in the old-timey speakeasy milieu. I was worried it would come off all self-consciously postmodern like the pop songs in Moulin Rouge, but it seems perfectly reasonable that people in the 1920s would want to hear something that sounds a lot like a guy slick-talking over hot jazz. It almost sounds like “Bowtie” was conceived with this scene in mind, which I guess wouldn’t be all that surprising considering how long this movie has been in the planning stages. During the “Bowtie” scene, Barber shoots couples swing-dancing in slow-mo Matrix bullet-time; he must’ve really liked that jump-and-jive Gap khakis commercial.

• Terrence Howard is far and away the best actor in the movie, but his character also has the worst, most awkward, most obvious lines, total mustache-twirling villain stuff. I wonder if that’s a coincidence.

• The non-performance music scenes are utterly ridiculous; Andre and Big Boi will just start lip-syncing their songs for absolutely no reason whether or not the songs have anything to do with the scene. It’s really odd, and I can’t understand why they didn’t just have the songs playing on the soundtrack. The part where Andre lip-syncs “She Lives in My Lap” made me laugh out loud.

• I think the scenes between Andre and his mortician father are supposed to be like the scenes between Prince and his father in Purple Rain, but they’re totally boring and inept (as opposed to the ones in Purple Rain, which were inept but not boring), and they’re death on the movie’s momentum.

• Andre’s character talks to the dead bodies he’s working on, and he’s kind of a dick to them.

• Paula Patton (Robin Thicke’s wife!), who plays Andre’s love interest, needs to be in every movie. She’s utterly beautiful, and she manages to sell even some of the absolute dumbest scenes in the film.

• Andre narrates, and he actually says, “All the world’s a stage.” Twice. And then he explains why both times.

• Terrence Howard’s henchman is my favorite character in the movie. He’s got this deep, rumbling voice, and he pretty much just repeats whatever Howard just said and then chuckles.

• Barber films a fight scene in near darkness and edits it so that we have absolutely no idea what’s happening. I hate it when people do that.

• We get one of those scenes where someone’s playing a song in a rowdy club and the crowd starts out hating it but the performers gradually gain confidence and figure out how to play to the crowd and people gradually start liking it until they’re all cheering by the end of the song. I love those scenes, like the one in that one episode of The A-Team where Culture Club is playing in a cowboy bar for some reason. This one is pretty good even though the song Andre is playing fucking blows.

Voice review: Michael Atkinson on Idlewild