A review of “Idlewild” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: *** 1/2

Rating: R for extreme violence, nudity and profanity

Run Time: 2 hours, 1 minute

 

 

Outkast’s “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below” was my favorite disc of 2003; I’m a huge fan. Needless to say I’m delighted that the boys’ fanatical pastiche of a musical is the real deal.

Platinum-selling rappers Andre 3000 and Big Boi (aka Andre Benjamin and Antwan A. Patton), along with music-video director Bryan Barber, combine passion and creativity with radiant results; think “The Cotton Club” meets “Moulin Rouge” on hallucinogens.

Percival Jenkins (Benjamin) and lifelong pal Rooster (Patton) are living it up in the speakeasy days of Idlewild, Georgia. Percival joins the family business – a la “Six Feet Under” – while Rooster raises a large brood and tries to make ends meet with a side dish of bootlegging. Both unwind evenings at jiving nightclub Church, where Percival tinkles the ivories and Rooster performs a mean soft shoe.

The narrative is deliciously non-linear, weaving in plot threads and disjointed styles with vivid abandon. The action plays out against a backdrop of short-tempered gangsters and dirty money-laundering, most of it with a sociopathic heavy named Trumpy (an excellent Terrence Howard) leading the charge. Rooster is under Trumpy’s thumb, forced to run Church the malevolent way while sidestepping a jealous wife who’s sniffing out his mistress.

Then there’s the love story, a sweet little ditty that sings the modest courtship of sexy chanteuse Angel Davenport (a glorious Paula Patton) and the soft-spoken, still-waters-run-deep Percival.

Cuckoo clocks warble a rhythmic beat and engraved whiskey flasks talk trash while the tempo swirls Busby Berkeley style. Animated musical notes jump from their staffs with frenzied glee and stop motion dancers fly high in a kaleidoscope of color, rhythm and joy. What’s not to love?

“Idlewild” is not for everyone. It’s frantic, chaotic and fantastically flawed; mixing rap, swing, hip-hop and blues with gimmicky commotion and a raging torrent of racial emotion. It’s a mess but an extremely imaginative one, a hugely ambitious and freshly styled Prohibition-era melodrama that’s the model backdrop for a pair of blazing talents reaching for the stars.