but without a point: (l-r) Antwan A. Patton and Howard
by Bryan Barber
Given the big, almost theatrical scope of some of their recent
music, an OutKast musical didn’t seem like a bad idea. They’ve
consistently made entertaining videos with idiosyncratic touches
(like the broken-down home with the leaky roof in “Ms. Jackson”),
so there was some cause for optimism. Plus, writer-director
Bryan Barber made their most recent videos, including “Hey
Alas, it was not to be. While Idlewild has much to
recommend it—it has been cast perfectly, and somehow manages
to present a hip-hop sensibility in a 1930s context—it falls
short. Idlewild isn’t a disaster, but it isn’t much
more than a really well-made vanity project.
Percival (Andre Benjamin, aka Andre 3000) is a mortician by
day and roadhouse piano player by night. The frustrated musician
got the gig through his lifelong pal Rooster (Antwan A. Patton,
aka Big Boi), a gambler and singer who is the star attraction
at the roadhouse, a rural Georgia juke joint called the Syncopated
Church. Though set in the 1930s, the music presented in the
club is a mélange of hip-hop, jazz, funk and dirty blues.
Percival can’t get a girl; Rooster has too many.
There are gangsters, played with cool restraint by Terrence
Howard (explosive as ever) and Ving Rhames. There is violence.
Percival gets a girl, the out-of-town singing star Angel Davenport
(Paula Patton), as Rooster loses his wife, Zora (Malinda Williams).
Will Percival escape his remote father (Ben Vereen)? Will
Rooster elude the gangsters and get his wife back?
The plot never rises above the mildly boring and thoroughly
predictable until the end, when the action takes a turn so
weird, so creepy that it almost redeems the film. (But doesn’t.)
It’s too bad, because the overall vibe is pleasing, and the
set design so realistic (and clever) that you hardly notice,
at first, when it’s totally not realistic—like the
coffin-shaped attic where Percival practices his music.
The strangest, but probably least surprising, thing about
Idlewild is that Benjamin and Patton ultimately seem
to be in different movies. They’re rarely in any scenes together,
and, after the childhood interlude that plays out early on
(with child actors as their younger selves), their two characters’
stories barely intersect. Do Percival and Rooster hang out
together? No. Ask each other for advice? Until the very, very
end, no. And they sure as hell don’t perform any music together.
As with their double album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below,
OutKast’s duo complement each other now; they don’t collaborate
in any meaningful way. Yes, they share story credit with the
writer-director, but a couple of plot robots could have produced
Idlewild’s narrative in less time than it takes to
read this sentence.
The music? It’s pretty good. Benjamin’s “Chronomentrophobia”
is clever, and makes for one of the more entertaining numbers
in the film (he’s accompanied on the refrain by a wall of
cuckoo clocks), though his faux-Cole Porter ballad, which
closes the film, isn’t any good. Patton contributes some new
numbers and recycles a couple of tunes from Speakerboxxx;
he ends up being the most compelling entertainer in the film.
There’s one caveat: If Macy Gray had been given more than
one song, she might have stolen the picture.
Still, it’s way too long at two hours, and strangely bloodless.
If this is, as rumored, OutKast’s farewell project, then it’s
past time for a split.
by Neil LaBute
The wicker man refers to a myth-enshrouded Celtic ritual that
required a human sacrifice—a male human—to the gods of the
harvest. In 1973, Anthony Shaffer’s novel The Wicker Man
was made into a movie (adapted by Shaffer) that hit the fledgling
ecology and feminist movements upside the head. It’s also
one of the most delectably creepy movies I’ve ever seen. The
same cannot be said for the new remake. Directed by Neil LaBute
with a dulled edge of misanthropy, the 2006 Wicker Man
is slow as molasses and a lot less palatable, with ponderous
music to match the stagey art direction.
Nicolas Cage plays Edward, a naïve highway cop who witnesses
a horrific car accident in which a young girl and her mother
vanish into the flames. Shortly after, he receives a letter
from his former fiancée asking for his help to locate her
missing daughter. Edward hasn’t seen his fiancée in years,
and is mystified by her relocation to an obscure island commune
called Summersisle. He shows the letter to a skeptical colleague,
telling him, “The plot thickens.” His colleague replies, “I
didn’t know you had a plot.” Edward does, but Shaffer’s storyline
is skimmed by LaBute’s preference for artifice over development.
The characters speak in deliberately unnatural speech patterns,
to clue the audience in to the deliberation that’s already
occurring without Edward’s knowledge. The director’s use of
symbolism is both obvious and useless: Edward experiences
flashbacks from the car accident during his ferry crossing
to the isle, but the accident is never explained. Once ashore,
however, he encounters a trio of snide, middle-aged women
who express their displeasure at his intrusion by scaring
him with a bleeding burlap sack. In the film’s only suspenseful
moment, Edward is offered a look inside the sack, and he flinches
just before he catches sight of whatever squiggling, injured
thing is contained within.
At the local tavern, he squashes a honeybee, earning the ill
will of the commune, whose economy is based on honey production.
The storyline becomes increasingly simplified as Edward, bewitched
by his proximity to the lovely (and boringly ambivalent) Willow
(Kate Beahan), becomes ever more desperate to find her daughter,
and more easily convinced that the young girl is either dead
or in danger. His investigation consists of being inexplicably
thwarted by the residents, an almost exclusively female congregation
of earth worshippers who are usually photographed in clannish
multiples. The few men that are seen are mere drones. A bewigged
Ellen Burstyn plays the congregation’s matriarch, a queen
bee whose cordiality toward Edward is in pointless contrast
to the controlled hostility of the rest of the sisterhood.
LaBute spends more time on glittery close-ups that capture
both the feminine allure and predatory instincts of the commune’s
sisterhood (Leelee Sobieski plays an especially fetching tavern
wench) than he does on making any of them even remotely human.
If the director intended to satirize the burgeoning neo-pagan
movement, his opinion on matriarchal power falls between the
cogs of the film’s mechanical progression. Edward bumbles
toward the truth, rather than being seduced to it, and the
sisterhood lacks any motivation other than childish malice.
Unlike the incisive realism of LaBute’s earlier films (especially
In the Company of Men), The Wicker Man resembles
a watered-down copy of M. Night Shyamalan’s copying of Alfred
Hitchcock. It drones where the original disturbed.