Friday, April 07, 2006

"ATL" Movie Review

"Down South you grow up quick, especially in the ATL."

And thus the premise for rapper T.I.'s movie "ATL" is laid out in the movies opening moments, along with a montage of southern living: country landscapes, worn houses, rib shacks, and the sound of Ray Charles cooing "Georgia" over a hip-hop beat.

The movie's release coincided with T.I.'s new album, "King," which was no coincidence. T.I. is primed to be a superstar, evidenced by his album's number one showing on the pop charts, and the movie's strong no. 3 ranking in box office sales. T.I. is now worthy of wearing the crown as "King of the South." And he makes it look easy.

The movie itself is a coming of age tale of two brothers, Rashad (played by TI) and Ant. The pair live with their uncle George (the parents were killed in a car accident) in Mechanicsville, an Atlanta community that is very working class. The presence of drugs, violence and despair loom in the background, but they don't dominate the movie. That' helps the flick avoid the whole "'hood movie syndrome."

This movie is more "American Graffiti" than "Menace II Society," and TI carries himself with the same angst and wide-eyed bewilderment that Richard Dreyfuss did more than 30 years ago in "Graffiti."

Rashad is a young man longing for some direction in his life. He dotes over his younger, scattershot brother Ant by helping him learn to be a man, but Rashad is hard pressed to figure that out for himself. He assumes the responsibility of role model that their uncle seems to duck, and helps run the cleaning business that he inherited when his parents passed away.

Rashad's crew is another revelation: no drug dealers, gangsters or hustlers among them, a welcome relief in an urban drama. Instead, we get a preppy braniac who keeps it real in the hood, an aloof miscreant/high school flunky who does gold "grills" on the side, and a doughy food worker from the east coast who can't find a job he likes.

And out of this ragtag bunch we get characters who don't appear headed for imminent doom (except Ant, who chooses to sell weed as a side vocation and gets into it with the local kingpin). And they all congregate at the most unlikely of spots: the roller rink, where Rashad and his crew battle it out on skates with rival crews. It's a joy to watch a movie with young people of color depicted simply as young people, period. Here are a few of my highlights:

- Thick country accents abound, which brought instant smiles. A school teacher saying "Thanks ya, Jee-zuss" and a girl complaining "My mouth is not that BEEG" were special treats.

- An east coast versus down south feud erupts when the homies debate regional slang. A NYC homie asks "Why you gotta end everything with shorty (pronounced "shaw-dee") while his southern brother asks "Why you end everything with son." They both make good points.

- I learned two great phrases: "(She got a) ass fatter than a swamp possum with mumps," and "You open like a can of pigs feet." The trick for me now is to use them in a regular conversation.

- The movie is a great entry point for southern culture, particularly the roller skate culture. I didn't see that bow wow movie "Roll Bounce," but that movie looked very lame. "ATL" made skating look cool.

- Rapper Big Boi of Outkast shows up as a germaphobe dope dealer (I forgot to write his character's name down). He shows up in an Escalade on some ridiculous 28-inch rims. And that is the reason you never hear about street dope dealers retiring to the Bahamas, they don't know how invest their money properly.

-Big Boi has two of the best lines in the movie: after beating his blood cousin who shorted him on some drug money, he looks him dead in the eye and says "You bet not tell my momma." Later, when a rival throws money in his face, he dead pans "You just hit me in my damn mouth with some money." Classic.

- T.I. is the truth. It's so hard for a non-actor to carry a movie, but he more than manages by not only going against type from his rap persona, but flipping the same scowling on the surface mannerism to convey Rashad's depth of character. 50 Cent could take some acting lessons from T.I.

- The number one rule in skating: Don't Fall. You just end up looking like an ass.

- Keith David, one of the scariest looking dudes in Hollywood, shows up as an uppity rich guy who turned his back on the ghetto. Even in that role, he looks like he would just kick my ass.

- Big Rube of the Dungeon Family shows up! Well, his voice does, at least, in the form of an overdub during a scene in the movie. Big Rube should be in a lot more movies.

- The trap house (dope house) in the movie looks like a cross between a crack house and a cult compound. It's pretty creepy looking.

- One thing I might do is rent the movie on DVD when it comes out, and play a drinking game based on rapper cameos. Every time a rapper makes a cameo (and there are a bunch, including Bone Crusher, Big Gipp, Jazze Pha) you gotta take a drink.

- Minnie Ripperton's "Let Me Know" is a great song. That's all I gotta say.

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