If a hot soundtrack and visual flair can save a movie, there’s hope yet for Idlewild, the OutKast musical that’s been finished and sitting on a shelf for two years. It’s not hard to see why. This oddball mix of The Cotton Club and Six Feet Under is a big, beautiful mess. But it offers the not-uninstructive spectacle of talented people stumbling over large and unwieldy ambitions.
Andre “3000” Benjamin plays Percival, a tortured soul who embalms corpses at a funeral parlor run by his daddy (Ben Vereen). By night, he writes songs and pounds the keyboards at a speak-easy run by his pal Rooster, played by Benjamin’s OutKast partner, Antwan “Big Boi” Patton. Both give credible performances, though Terrence Howard, cast as the smooth, seductive villain, puts them deep in the shade.
Idlewild can’t decide if it’s about bullets, booze, broads or the sound of hip-hop that the film strenuously tries to marry to the 1930s. Writer-director Bryan Barber, the house video wizard for OutKast, devises convoluted concepts involving animation. The engraved rooster on Rooster’s liquor flask comes alive and nags him like a parrot. Percival’s clocks go berserk as a reminder that time is passing him by, and he one-ups the morticians on Six Feet Under by singing to the corpses. This is not OutKast’s version of Disney’s High School Musical.
It’s also not a movie with a clear sense of direction, a strong spine to support its fancy conceits or even a nodding acquaintance with the conventional. It’s like watching a dead body get up and dance. You sit there in horror and awe, thinking, “What was that damn thing?”