There’s a lot to like about ATL — the debuting young actors are pleasant, the cursing is minimal, the violence is tempered, and best of all, the misogyny level is the lowest I’ve seen in this type of movie in ages (add a full point to the rating). But ultimately, ATL is a cliche-filled fairy tale that sacrifices its edginess for a happy ending.
Equally awful, the previews lied. As a former denizen of Venice Beach, Calif., whose current closet proudly displays still-snowy high-top skates with the neon-orange pompom ties, I was eagerly awaiting what the ATL previews promised: a heart-thumping, gravity-defying, hip-hopping battle of dueling roller skaters. Major disappointment. Although ATL does show some thrilling skating footage, there certainly isn’t enough to warrant having to sit through the rest of the movie to see it.
It’s five weeks before graduation, and four seniors living in Atlanta’s south side worry about their futures. Rashad (hip-hop artist Tip Harris, known as T.I.) dreams of being a newspaper cartoonist, but with no further education in sight, he fears he’ll end up an the assistant in the janitorial service owned by his uncle George (Mykelti Williamson, Forrest Gump). Also, he needs to take care of his younger brother, Ant (Evan Ross Naes), who is too easily impressed by the local drug dealers. Scholarly Esquire (Jackie Long, Lovewrecked) could be accepted into an Ivy League college if he gets letters of recommendation from the right people. Chubby Brooklyn (Albert Daniels) hopes to enter the management fast track in the perfect fast-food restaurant. Slow-learner Teddy (Jason Weaver, The Ladykillers) wants to operate his own tooth-decorating salon. The only thing the boys know for sure is that the place to be on Sunday night is the Cascade roller rink, where the music is loud, the girls are proud, and the best skaters rule.
When the teams aren’t showing off their wild skate-dancing moves, romance rushes in. Into the boys’ tight-knit quartet sashays pretty “New-New” (Lauren London), who talks and acts ghetto but in reality is Erin, the pampered daughter of a rich CEO (Keith David, Crash) from the other side of town. Meanwhile, hilarious twin sisters Sky and Veda (real-life sisters Malika and Khadija, Sky High) get caught shoplifting by their mother, but managed to steal every scene in the movie. (A smart producer would snap up these gals and give them their own TV series.)
Making his feature-film debut, music-video director Chris Robinson infuses ATL with kinetic energy. Music producer Dallas Austin, who serves as one of the film’s producers and whose life story inspired the script, assures that ATL‘s music is fantastic. But a movie needs more than a cool look and a cooler sound. Without depth, ATL falls behind as a formulaic snoozer instead of graduating to a gritty teen romance. Rated PG-13 for drug content, language, sexual material and some violence.
– reviewed by Marcianne Miller