Not content with being one of the most successful hip-hop groups of all time, American duo Outkast - Andre 'Andre 3000' Benjamin and Antwan 'Big Boi' Patton - have moved into the world of film with 'Idlewild', an energetic Prohibition-era musical set in the American South. A first feature from music video director Bryan Barber, who has previously helmed 'Roses' and 'Hey Ya!' for the band, it is packed full of music, glamour, dance, drama, violence and sex, a gorgeous-looking - if somewhat superficial - extended pop promo.
As befits OutKast's even playing field status, there are two lead parts in 'Idlewild'. Big Boi plays Rooster, the hooch-running club manager and performer at a wild speakeasy called Church. His pianist and musical partner Percival (Andre 3000), as repressed as Rooster is flamboyant, is being groomed to succeed his widower father (Vereen) as the local undertaker. Both their lives become complicated when Rooster gets himself into a spot of bother with violent mobster Trumpy (Howard) and Percival falls for Angel (Paula Patton), the new singer-with-a-secret at Church.
The far-divorced-from-reality 1930s setting seems little more than an excuse for the boys to revel in sumptuous costumes (check out those spats and plus-fours!), lavish sets and vintage cars. 'Idlewild' is indeed a stylish romp but the plot, as it stands, is little more than a loose hook for as many of OutKast's songs as can be shoehorned in as possible. It comes most vibrantly alive in the dance scenes, the whole Church jumping to an amalgam of hip-hop and swing, but there are a few other musical interludes, as people break into song at odd moments, that sit ill at ease with the rest of the film.
There's no shortage of visual and technical inventiveness. Barber has much fun with quirky, off-beat touches - dancers are suspended in mid-air, a wall-full of cuckoo clocks play chorus, animated notes run around the pages of a musical score - and the camera dives into the action more than once. While the main duo acquit themselves favourably playing, as it seems, characters not altogether far removed from their real selves, they're up against tough acting competition from Ving Rhames, who plays gangster Spats, bad, bad gangster Terrence Howard and blustery father Ben Vereen. Andre 3000's love interest, eye-catching newcomer Paula Patton has a wonderful blend of world wise sexuality and ingénue vulnerability but Big Boi's wife (Williams) and comically numerous family are relegated very much to the background.
While 'Idlewild' won't win much praise for its one-dimensional, cliché-ridden storyline, fans will be far from disappointed at this two-hour serving of typical OTT OutKast flair and finery.