What a god damned waste of potential. No really. A god damned waste of potential. Here we have Idlewild, a film I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time now – a film so laden with talent and an intriguing premise that it got me all sorts of excited. But it’s a mess, a complete mess that fails to live up even remotely to any expectations you might have for this film. It’s not that it’s entirely terrible, but enough of it is to ruin any hopes of this being anything resembling a truly entertaining piece of film.
There are entire elements to the story that end up unexplained and utterly irrelevant, no matter how important they really should be. In one case, a character is revealed to not be who they claim…only to have it turn out that another character knew all along and simply kept their mouth shut. Okay, that can be interesting. It’s even more interesting when that story comes to a head and the character who knew is confronted and claims “I can explain!” But they never do. And you’re left to scratch your head asking What the Fuck? Are you kidding me? It’s just left hanging, as if that characters motivation doesn’t actually matter. DESPITE THE FACT THAT IT’S THE THRUST OF THE WHOLE FUCKING STORY! At least it is when that little factoid is revealed. That entire plot twist hinges on that explanation. An explanation that never comes.
But it’s a musical, right? Who needs a real, involving story when you’re making a musical? You just need thin plot threads to take you from number to number? Right? Wrong. Because for the most part, Idlewild doesn’t seem to think it’s a musical. There are several songs, but they’re all numbers performed at the club. Or at least most of them are. Despite the reality Idlewild tries to set up, it breaks its own rules by having two musical numbers that seem entirely out of place. They just happen, out of nowhere, and serve zero purpose. And to make matters worse – both sequences look like you could chop them out of the movie and put them immediately on Mtv.
So what, right? At least the music looks like it’s going to be an original blend of modern Hip Hop with thirties era jazz. Nope. The music is almost entirely modern Hip Hop. Only the last song in the film, the one played during the credits (that you may be familiar with from the trailer) sounds like this. The rest sounds exactly like every other Outkast album ever made. Which is fine, except that when juxtaposed with a story set in the thirties it simply feels wrong. From the looks of it, this appears to be something akin to Moulin Rouge, a film out of time that blends different styles together to create a single, unique universe. But that’s not what this is. It’s a film set in the thirties with musical acts that rap. There’s no creative use of Jazz or Blues mixed into a majority of the music. Just standard, by the numbers, Outkast.
And the cast, oh god, the cast. It’s amazing. And a total fucking waste. Faizon Love and Ving Rhames, two of my favorite actors working today, both do fantastic jobs…in the first fifteen minutes of the movie. Then they’re gone. Ben Vereen, a perfect choice for a musical like this if ever there was one – a man that can sing, dance and knows how to act – gets a few scenes as the drunken, overbearing father. And his performance is great, for how little they use him. How about screen legend Cicely Tyson? She appears in exactly one scene. Patty LaBelle? Half of a scene. Comedian Bruce Bruce? Half of Patty LaBelle’s half-a-scene. Bill Nunn? About thirty seconds spread out through the film. Macy Gray? One of the few characters actually around for most of the film that serves virtually no purpose at all but cackle from the background. Pretty much every actor of note or name presented in the trailer is either vastly underused or a glorified cameo. The only big name in the film that gets any love whatsoever is Terrence Howard, who turns in one really great scene before his character is transformed into a mustache-twirling villain with zero depth.
And when you begin to think about how lame this film is compared to what it could have been with this concept, this cast and the musical talent behind it – well, it doesn’t live up to anything it promises to be. I mean, come on, you get Patty LaBelle in your film…as a singer…and we can’t even get a Patty LaBelle version of an old Jazz classic, or at least something that sounds like one?
And while Writer/Director Bryan Barber may have no sense of story whatsoever, the guy sure knows what to do with a camera. Sections of this film are absolutely gorgeous, and often quite inventive. His camera work alone makes me want to go back and check out his music videos. Which of course only adds to further frustration with the film. The guy clearly isn’t a worthless director. He got great performances and stunning shots. If only he knew how to tell a story. Then he’d be someone to watch. Give this guy a great script and a producer that makes him stick to it, and he could make for one hell of a director. Just keep him the hell away from the editing room – because when the story isn’t being nonsensical, the editing sure is.
All in all, I cannot recommend this film at all. If you’re into Outkast, check out the soundtrack. But only check this out if you set your expectations incredibly low. Probably the biggest waste of two hours I’ve spent this week, and frankly, I haven’t done shit this week. At all.
Until next time friends, smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em. I know I will.