Critics have lauded OutKast as hip-hop’s most entertaining mishmashers—they mix rap and funk and pop and other genres, all filtered through the sensibilities of two distinct personalities, Andre Benjamin (a.k.a. Andre 3000) and Antwan Patton (a.k.a. Big Boi). Now, the pair has collaborated with their music-video director Bryan Barber on an ambitious mishmash of a movie called Idlewild: It’s a period gangster musical with tommy guns and vintage roadsters and numbers that range from hip-hop to funk to blues to Busby Berkeley Deco extravaganzas, plus plenty of bloody shootings and even a dewy romance. Does it jell? Hell, no! But a lot of invigorating American pop-culture epics are mishmashes—genre-bending follies that end up being more than the sum of their incongruities. Idlewild aims high and sends out lots of entertaining sparks.
The movie revolves around a lusty Deep South cabaret-nightclub known blasphemously as the Church. It’s run by Sunshine, played by big Faizon Love, until he and his nice-guy gangster godfather (Ving Rhames) are gunned down by Trumpy (the great Terrence Howard). Big Boi—a deft and understated comedian—is the unlucky soul who takes over the nightclub, along with its debts, while Andre is the dutiful undertaker’s son who by night plays piano and falls for a Church chanteuse (Paula Patton, who’s a tall drink of water, lemme tell you).
The gangster melodrama is surprisingly effective, thanks to Howard’s cunning mixture of ice and hotheadedness. And the picture’s attitude is exhilarating—the way it’s always perched between genres, ready to leap effortlessly from the old-fashioned to the modern and to blend the two. What’s too bad is that the musical numbers are hit-or-miss. Barber’s OutKast videos are witty montages in which the whole universe comes alive and comments on the action. And the director does a little of that here—especially with Big Boi’s whining, foulmouthed talking flask, which is like something out of South Park. But mostly, he tries for the hyperactive sizzle of the movie Chicago and misses his marks. The dances are messes, with choppy hip-hop moves and Bob Fosse postures and weirdly disembodied vocals. Even the raps don’t seem to be coming from the performers’ mouths.
Give Barber a point for originality when Big Boi raps during a car chase with Trumpy on his tail, even if the sequence doesn’t work as either a chase or a rap (his patter is inaudible). But Idlewild is diverting enough to suggest all the unexplored avenues in movie musicals, the way OutKast’s best numbers suggest new avenues for hip-hop—which can bind together and energize so many different homegrown musical movements.
There was energy of another sort at the media screening I went to. During the shoot-’em-up nightclub climax, a fight broke out in the theater, and the audience freaked out and made for the exits. It was just two guys throwing punches—but given the shooting onscreen, we all thought that bullets were flying.
I hope life doesn’t imitate art in the other fun movie opening this week, an adaptation of Thomas Rockwell’s gross-out 1972 kids’ classic How to Eat Fried Worms.Rockwell was the son of Norman, and there’s something deeply satisfying—deeply American—about the seamless transition between the father’s rosy clean-cut universe and the worm cuisine of the son. The writer-director, Bob Dolman, has taken Rockwell’s disgusting conceit and grafted on a narrative about a new kid who stands up to bullies and a moral about the perils of bullying. But it’s the worm set pieces that rule, as our hero must carry out a dare to eat ten worms ten ways between sunup and sundown.
I’m a pretty brave guy, but I do have a longstanding worm phobia and so I spent much of the film with my fingers in front of my eyes. But I did see bits of the Burning Fireball—worms in a pot with Tabasco; and the Big Porker, a worm fried in pig fat, with blobs melding with the semi-liquefied worm. I did not, however, watch the Radioactive Slime Delight, which makes a mess of the microwave.
Reportedly, no worms were harmed in the making of the movie. And if you fear the film will inspire copycat dares, well—a quick Web search informs me that earthworms are 70 percent protein. Have a great Labor Day barbecue.