It was like the end of Blazing Saddles, when the melee on screen spilled out into the cinema audience watching the movie. The press screening (or "all media," as it’s called in the industry) for Idlewild, the new movie starring Outkast‘s Andre 3000 and Big Boi, was held at the AMC/Loews 84th St. Theatre featuring an audience of critics from weekly mags and daily rags, online writers, and anyone else who is connected enough to get on the list. (There are usually a fair number of radio station contest winners at these things too.) Usually, the most exciting thing that happens at these screenings is Joel Siegel walks out in a huff. But during Idlewild‘s climactic scene — a wild dance number that becomes punctuated with violence — a fight broke out in the front of the theater that sent the first six or seven rows scrambling for the aisles.
Then the fight went up the aisle too, right past us. Not knowing whether the gunshots were coming from the screen or the theater, my girlfriend ducked under the seat and kept whispering — loudly — for me to do the same. I wanted to see what was going on. It took only about five minutes to finally clear the idiots out of the theater (no idea what the fight was about, but one of the main offenders left shirtless) and the remaining 15 minutes of the movie had little consequence to anyone in there. You could tell everyone was anxiously awaiting for the end credits to talk about what the hell just happened.*
Even the best of movies couldn’t have recovered from something like that, but Idlewild — a cookie-cutter gangster film set at a speakeasy club in prohibition-era Georgia — had already lost on most people by that point I think. What a mess. On-screen, I mean. At nearly two hours, Idlewild is a kitchen sink affair, with so many ideas — musical, visual, otherwise — that it can’t possibly hold them all. It’s also predictable and loaded with cliches that lead to the sort of pat ending we’ve seen again and again and again.
But it is at least a classy, interesting, entertaining mess. The opening credits sequence — featuring a lot of Ken Burns style photo manipulation and scene-stealing performances from two kids playing pint-sized versions of Big Boi and Andre — is an awesome start. And there are a lot of good ideas going on throughout, but most of them are half-baked. Animation features prominently in the movie. Some of it works (musical notes on sheet music), some of it doesn’t (a flask Big Boi’s character carries that has a talking rooster on it). A fanciful musical number featuring a wall of cuckoo clocks is one of Idlewild‘s best sequences — until it ends abruptly. It’s as if Andre didn’t finish the song but writer/director Bryan Barber decided to film make something out of it anyway. The music may have been the most disappointing aspect of the film. That a movie featuring one of the most creative hip hop groups of the last ten years can’t muster one memorable song in a two-hour movie is a major problem.
But again, there are many nice touches. The choreography pops (the dance numbers are just great), the cinematography lush, and you can feel that Southern humidity throughout. And Big Boi and Andre are both good, though they barely share 10 minutes of screen time together. They work together in Idlewild the same way they do on Speakerbox/The Love Below — you can’t buy one without the other. Separate but equal time. A package deal.
The supporting cast is pretty great but underused. How do you have Ben Vereen in a musical and not have him sing or dance? Ving Rhames and Terrence Howard aren’t given much to do. Macy Gray, however, is given way too much to do. People who listened to alt-rock in the ’80s should look out for Fishbone‘s Angelo Moore as the bandleader at the speakeasy where much of the action happens.
What really bugs is that Idlewild could’ve been great. But I have a feeling the only thing I’ll remember about it next year was that fight.
More Idlewild reviews at Metacritic.
*Turns out the cause of the fight was one guy was kicking the back another guys seat. At least it was a just cause.