Saturday, April 01, 2006

ATL


How is T.I.'s rap career gonna survive when the world finds out he's just a big softie?

When the records sound as great as his (though I haven't purchased "King" yet), he's probably built enough of a rep to thrive despite this only mildy disappointing flick.

For anyone who doesn't know, he plays Rashad, supposedly a 17-year-old high school student forced to look out for his little brother after their parents died in a car crash. Strike 1: Despite his small stature, T.I., at 25 or so in real life, makes Luke Perry's turn on "Beverly Hills 90210" look hyperrealistic. It just doesn't work.

Strike 2: Director Chris Robinson just can't decide what story he wants to tell here. Keep up if you can. There's the aforementioned story of Rashad trying to keep his little brother Ant (Evan Ross) from becoming a dope boy; Rashad's romance with "New New" (Lauren London), a rich girl who's slumming on the other side of town; Rashad's friend Esquire (Jackie Long), who is struggling to reconcile his desire to go to an Ivy League college without abandoning the hood; and finally what should have been the main focus, four friends growing up together in Atlanta's Mechanicsville hood and hanging out at the Cascade roller rink. Take a second to catch your breath, then we'll continue.

Had Robinson and screenwriters Antwone Fisher and Tina Gordon Chism chosen to stick to this last story, I think I would have been more interested. The roller rink scenes are the most electric in the movie, full of colorful characters and sleek camera work that fit Robinson's strengths as a music video director. I know we saw that before in "Roll Bounce" (which I enjoyed more than this one), but it was the most interesting story line in "ATL."

The story of Ant's flirtation with the streets and working for drug-dealing heavy Antwan "Big Boi" Patton is also fairly well told, though even surrounded by his own pitbulls, Patton just isn't all that menacing. Still, it has an urgency to it that is lacking in other parts of the movie.

Where it really drags is when T.I. and London are on screen together. Bottom line, neither of them can act very well at all, especially T.I. The trademark of his burgeoning career as a thespian thus far seems to be squinting, his not-so-subtle way of telling the audience he is either angry, sad, or just annoyed, much as I was as the movie started to drag in the middle.

As this remarkably boring story line unfolded, I couldn't help but think about the memo sent out by the company General Growth, which owns several Atlanta malls, warning theater operators that the movie may cause "behavioral problems" in audience members. I had to stop from laughing out loud as stretches of "ATL" that were milder than the most vanilla romantic comedy unfolded in front of me. For the record, none of the 10 or so people in attendance Saturday at noon down here in Macon appeared to be acting up, though one person did forget to turn off the cell phone.

In the end, I was disappointed with "ATL" mostly for what it could have been with a little more focus and better stars.

To their credit, they gave Atlanta more soul than I've been able to find in it. Ever since I moved down here, I've complained that I can't get a feel for Atlanta because everyone there (like me) is from somewhere else. Maybe I never will, but I'm gonna try.

As for T.I., please, please, please don't quit your day job. As I've said here before, your "Urban Legend" album is one of my favorites, so please just stick what to you do best.

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