That’s what the cool kids call Atlanta, I guess, “ATL.” The film of that name offers what I assume is an accurate depiction of Atlanta life for working-class African-American kids, and it does so without pandering to the target audience or completely shutting out everyone else. I’m not a teenager, black or from Atlanta, and the film worked OK for me.
From a story by Antwone Fisher (yes, of “Antwone Fisher” fame), screenwriter Tina Gordon Chism (“Drumline”) tells a smart, engaging tale about a group of ATL kids in the final weeks of their senior year of high school.
Rashad Swann (Tip “T.I.” Harris), our hero and narrator, works with his little brother Ant (Evan Ross Naess) for their Uncle George’s (Mykelti Williamson) janitorial service and has no idea what he’ll do after graduation. His friends have varying degrees of potential. Esquire (Jackie Long) works at a country club and is aiming for the Ivy League. Teddy (Jason Weaver) works at a place that fits customers with gold teeth. Brooklyn (Albert Daniels) works at a pizza place but can’t seem to hold any job for very long.
Mostly, the guys just hang out together and laugh and look at girls, and first-time director Chris Robinson very astutely captures the cocky flirting, fighting and ignoring that goes on between hormonal boys and girls.
The site for most of their interaction is Sunday nights at a roller rink called Cascade. Hip hop music plays, and the best skaters break off into teams (cliques, really) to strut their stuff in an elaborate mating ritual that also serves as an escape from the pressures of the world.
Those pressures are increasing for some more than others. Esquire meets John Garnett (Keith David), a millionaire CEO who might be able to write him a letter of recommendation, but who has turned his back on his own humble upbringing. Rashad starts dating New New (Lauren London), a ghetto-fabulous girl whose friends are rumored to be heavy-duty shoplifters. And Ant starts dealing marijuana for a neighborhood drug kingpin.
The film gets into some haves-vs.-have-nots material that feels like nonsense — not the issues at play, but the superficial way the movie deals with them — and there’s some meandering near the end. Yet the performances, mostly by unknowns and hip-hop artists who are unknown to me, are all down-to-earth and honest, often comical but never clownish or silly. Black urban youth are treated with dignity and affection — something that doesn’t often happen in movies — and it’s a respectable, mostly enjoyable film.
B- (1 hr., 45 min.; )