Back Shelf Beauties
Rapper T.I. Tip Harris stars as Rashad - a high school senior trying to help raise his younger brother, Ant (Evan Ross), in the rundown Atlanta suburb of Mechanicsville, Georgia. He and his buddies are on the precipice of moving from childhood to adulthood with graduation right around the corner, and each has an uncertain future ahead. Rashad looks to be taking over the family cleaning business, but he'd rather be drawing for a living. His pal, Esquire (Jackie Long), has his eyes set on a prestigious Ivy League school, but needs someone important to give him a recommendation. Meanwhile, Brooklyn (Albert Daniels) and Teddy (Jason Weaver) need some sort of direction. In their last few weeks together, the group trains to compete in local roller dancing competition, but everything becomes more complicated as Rashad starts to fall for New-New (Lauren London), Esquire starts to hang out with his idol, and Ant falls into a dangerous and rough crowd.
Will each of these young men get on the right track? Can New-New and Rashad find true love? Is Rashad destined for a life of cleaning, or drawing? Will Ant make the right decisions when he meets a local drug kingpin, Marcus (Antwan Andre Patton a/k/a Big Boi from OutKast), who has lots of flash and cash?
The most refreshing part of ATL is that each of these kids are good kids. Unfortunately, they are good kids in a bad movie. Director Chris Robinson and writer Tina Gordon Chism don't give ATL direction or a consistent tone, so you feel like ATL too suddenly is bouncing between comedy, drama and love story, instead of meshing all three into a cohesive story. At times, the movie is a buddy comedy with 4 good kids in the middle of typical high school antics. At other times, it can be a dangerous film about the thug life as Ant starts to be blinded by the bling and gets involved in illegal activity.
It will be no surprise to anyone who sees ATL that Robinson is a well-known and successful music video director, especially after you have to sit through scene after painful and annoying scene straight from the music video playbook. Robinson mucks up ATL with too many slow motion shots of girls' booties shaking back and forth as they walk towards the guys, and too many musical interludes lacking dialogue as they strive for style over substance. If they added some meaning and context to the movie, that would be great, but they are for show. One or two might have worked just fine, but this many feels like unnecessary filler. Then, we have to deal with an inconsistent cast.
T.I. is not the best actor out there. He's not even in the top 60%. More often than not, he relies on posing with the same semi-contorted face to show us he feels pain, frustration, anger, happiness, love and more. Of course, the face looks the same, so you have to guess which of these emotions he is trying to convey to us. T.I. has some moments, like when Rashad confronts Ant about his behavior, or when he shows the younger brother people can make money honestly, too (a wonderful theme of the movie from Chism as we see how various people make an honest living vs. those who don't).
Chism also adds a strong sub-plot about Marcus' temptation of Ant, which is well done by Big Boi. The actor/musical talent is an imposing figure on screen and taps into pure evil as he taunts the younger protégé, and mocks Rashad when the older brother tries to save Ant.
ATL has all of the makings of a good movie if Robinson had eliminated the extraneous (a love story and mystery that don't resonate with me), and focused on the most compelling.
1 ½ Waffles (Out Of 4)
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