2006Director: Chris Robinson
Cast: T.I., Big Boi, Lauren London
nytime a rapper stars in a movie/vehicle, it will inevitably be compared to 8 Mile. It happened with 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Tryin'—but in that case, the comparisons were justified. Both are semi autobiographical tales of young hustlers trying to make it out of the 'hood, via their underlying rapping talents. T.I.'s leading man debut, however, probably couldn't be more different.
ATL finds the artist as a teenager named Rashad, living with his little brother and uncle (parents deceased), working as a janitor when not attending high school, and filling whatever spare time he has with his two loves: roller skating and sketching (with aspirations of one day being a comic artist for the Sunday funnies). Rashad has no history of drug dealing (though he soon must face the conflicts of watching his little brother take it up as a hobby), no interest whatsoever in rapping, and seems to have a heart of solid gold. I mean, he swears maybe twice during the whole movie (if that), spends most of it wooing a local gal, saving up money for his sibling's future, and, as aforementioned, hitting up the roller rink with his boys. Even his “crew” members are seemingly pretty innocent: one is attending private school, and applying to some Ivy League schools (which actually makes for a nice, if after-school special-esque, dynamic), and the others work minimum wage jobs between practicing their skate routines.
Music video vet Chris Robinson’s debut feature is a warm, wholesome, bubblegum movie—and one that could almost inarguably be labeled a “feel-good comedy.” There are some darker moments—notably any scene involving the oozingly charismatic Big Boi, here playing a reasonably scary gangster—and even those are played more as dark humor than drama. While the plot is surprisingly charming, it's also pretty thin. Luckily, this shortcoming is mostly redeemed by ATL’s strong cast. T.I., a little too old to be playing a teen, turns in a respectable performance, but, along with everyone else here, he’s overshadowed by Big Boi, who was also the best thing about the overblown Coen bros-on-speed Idlewild.
As Rashad, T.I. serves as the stoic, attractive, relatable dude who makes for a good straight-man. It's also admirable how much screen time those “other characters” are given. It's not a vanity project at all (save for a scene where T.I. is the only roller skater not to slip on some water and fall on the rink, and in fact jumps over everyone who did, landing immaculately). ATL even makes use of—gasp—non-T.I. hip-hop, and plenty of it, on the soundtrack. When contrasting it with 8 Mile or Get Rich in that regard, it deserves even more kudos. My only real complaint is that the film didn't end with a big, grand roller skating competition set to Eric Prydz’s “Call on Me.”
ATL is now available on DVD.
By: Teresa Nieman
Published on: 2006-10-12