Idlewild (2006) Bryan Barber

Production Budget: $15 million

Worldwide Budget: $12 million

Idlewild is about a speakeasy in Idlewild during the Prohibition era.  Two lifelong friends, Rooster (Big Boi) and Percival (Andre Benjamin) work for the club: the former as the manager and the latter as the piano player.  Local gangster Trumpy (Terrence Howard) kills off the competition in town and owns all the connections for illegal booze.  Rooster now has to pay off the club as well as pay a heavy price for this new supply of booze or else Trumpy will come after him.

Probably the most important thing about a musical is, of course, the music.  Now I haven’t listened to much Outkast but of what I had heard I wasn’t a huge fan.  So I was a little surprised that the musical numbers were enjoyable.  I would even go as far as say the music and choreography are the best parts of the movie.  That being said, I still have to criticize some things.  For one, the songs do not serve the traditional musical role of advancing the plot or giving us insight into the characters thoughts.  Instead these feel like music videos thrown into a gangster movie.  While they are enjoyable, they serve no purpose at all.  My second criticism I’m not sure how much I am really going to harp on but what the heck.  This movie is set during the Prohibition where the music was jazz and yet all of the songs are either hip hop or rap (which weren’t around).  Now like I said, I am not sure how much this matters as other movies had anachronistic music and the music here is good.  But it is strange that you make a movie about an era and you don’t have that music ANYWHERE at all in the movie.  The final thing I will say about the music is I don’t think there was enough musical numbers given the length of the movie.  It was a little too few and far between.

The plot of the movie works alright (if a bit stock), but like much about this movie, there are things that make me scratch my head.  I get the impression Idlewild was sort of the Purple Rain for Andre 3000.  The music stems from Andre’s character and it is ultimately about finding love and finding his calling as a musician.  Seems straight forward, but in the movie it is almost like Percival is delagated to the role of subplot.  The majority of the movie is about Rooster managing the club and keeping the psycho Trumpy off his back.  We learn more about Rooster, we follow him as he tries to pay back the debt on the club, and the tension in the plot deals with Rooster being threatened by this mobster.  When the focus turns back to Percival you almost forget he should be a bigger part of the movie.  There isn’t much of a conflict compared to Rooster and you don’t feel as much depth as compared to Rooster.  Big Boi is a singer which is why he has a big role in the film, but he is not a singer in the movie which is why the time devoted to the characters is a bit confusing.  Trumpy’s is also a bit baffling as a character.  Rooster is a productive club owner who rakes in the cash for Trumpy but Trumpy gives Rooster unworkable demands and threatens to kill (for all we know as) one of his main sources of income.  This doesn’t make any sense at all as Trumpy is seemingly the worst businessman/gangster ever.  I’m just saying I would prefer a conflict with a little more depth than the bad guy is batshit crazy.

I’m kind of surprised that the most annoying thing about this movie is the direction.  It really says something when directing calls enough attention to itself to be called annoying.  The director tries to be flashy and cool but it comes off as distracting and confusing.  I’ll give you some examples of what I mean.  Rooster has a hip flask which he drinks from that has a rooster printed on it.  When he drinks the Rooster comes alive (in cartoon form) and says something ala Skids and Mudflaps in Transformers 2.  Why?  I don’t know.  I don’t know if Rooster is insane or if there was some hallucinogen in the whiskey but all I know is I audibly said “What the fuck?“ when it happened.  When Percival is writing music, the notes become stick figures and dance and laugh.  Why?  Does it look like I know?  And the thing is these aren’t some isolated examples.  It seems like every few minutes there is something that is so confusing and nonsensical (although the director probably believes its brilliant) that pops up on the screen.  The movie will rewind and fast forward with little record scratch sound effects put on the soundtrack, some random CGI will pop in (like a Matrix gun fight), or some cartoon voice or sound effect will pop in.  Sure enough every couple minutes you will be frustratingly exclaiming “Why?“ and getting no response from your television.

Idlewild is a mixed bag of a movie.  The acting is fine (especially from Paula Patton and Terrence Howard), the story works, and the music is actually fun.  For all those good things, there are an equal number of questionable or annoying things about the direction and choices with the movie. Overall I enjoyed it although it is frustrating because it actually could have been really great.  I would give a recommendation if you were ever interested in it but for everyone else I think the flaws drag it down from a must see to a maybe see if you are bored.

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