Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

When the band is playing and the girls are dancing and the joint is jumpin', who can ask for anything more?

This may not be Chicago, or Ray, or any of those fine East Coast musicals, 'cos it's Georgia in the Thirties and coloured folk lived segregated lives. In fact, two of the strangest things about Idlewild is that you won't see a white face and the cops don't bother investigating murder if it's black on black.

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What this film has, in addition to sex appeal and smart shoes, is style. Writer/director Bryan Barber takes risks, goes the full distance, plays with slo-mo and monochrome and other fun things just to keep you from lazing your mind into feeling comfortable with racial stereotyping and all that jazz.

Rooster and Percival grew up together in Idlewild. Rooster was the scammer, the cheekiest kid on the street, who was "good with numbers," while Percival was serious and straight laced, who played piano and collected vinyl 78s and helped his mortician father (Ben Vereen) prepare dead bodies for open caskets.

Fast-forward and Percival is tall, skinny, immaculately turned out, shy, quiet and, above all, respectable, who has grown into Droopy's dark skinned cousin, lugubrious and soft-spoken. Rooster has changed even more. He's married with four kids, looks hen pecked and miserable and lacks his youthful flair and charm.

What the two friends have in common is The Church, the hottest night spot in town - some call it a whorehouse - where Percival plays in the band and Rooster runs the place for his big fat boss Ace (Faizon Love), while performing as headliner in the burlesque show. This is the period of bootleg liquor and gangster power, before drugs and rock'n'roll, where a smooth talkin' killer like Trumpy (Terrence Howard) can move in and take over by blowing away every human obstacle with the ruthless efficiency of Al Capone's hatchet men.

Just when the film begins to slide effortlessly into a violent jazz enhanced Thirties thriller pastiche, with sophisticated song-and-dance numbers at The Church, Angel Davenport (Paula Patton) makes her entrance, like a silken dream in shades of caramel, to captivate Percival and change the direction of their lives. She's a singer from St Louis, or so she claims, and altogether too beautiful to believe.

Despite flaws and the occasional cliche - even killing people can appear tiresomely predictable - you cannot escape the spirit and energy of Idlewild. Andre Benjamin, as Percival, is totally convincing and wholly sympathetic and it's great to see him let rip in the final credits sequence. Big Boi, as Rooster, cannot match his young self (Bobb'e J Thompson) and is obviously not an actor. Some of his hip-hop numbers seem incongruous as well, since rap hadn't been invented in 1935. However, there is solid back up in smaller roles from Melinda Williams and Ving Rhames, with delightful cameos from the legendary Patti LaBelle and Macy Gray.

Reviewed on: 10 Oct 2006
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Small town Georgia jazz scene in the Thirties, with high-kicking dancers, homemade hooch, gangsters, guns and a girl called Angel.
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Director: Bryan Barber

Writer: Bryan Barber

Starring: Andre Benjamin, Big Boi, Paula Patton, Terrence Howard, Faizon Love, Melinda Williams, Cicely Tyson, Ving Rhames, Macy Gray, Ben Vereen, Paula Jai Parker, Bobbi'e J Thompson, Jackie Long, Oscar Dillon, Patti LaBelle

Year: 2006

Runtime: 121 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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