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Film review: 'ATL' takes too-dark turn

Published: Friday, March 31 2006 12:00 a.m. MST

ATL — ** — Tip Harris, Lauren London, Evan Ross; PG-13 (profanity, vulgarity, violence, drugs, racial epithets, brief sex, nude photos).

Like last year's "Roll Bounce," "ATL" is a comedy-drama set — at least in part — in a roller-skating rink. And like the earlier film, it fails to find the right middle ground between its competing dramatic and comic elements.

But where the former film didn't take itself nearly seriously enough, "ATL" takes itself far too seriously. And things take a very dark turn in the film's final third, which nearly sabotages the entire film. (Not to reveal too much, but "ATL" heads toward "Get Rich or Die Tryin' " or "Hustle & Flow" territory.)

Still, the movie does have its appeal, much of which has to do with the fresh-faced cast. Rapper T.I., a k a Tip Harris, stars as Rashad Swann, an Atlanta teen. Rashad and his younger brother, Ant (Evan Ross), live with their uncle (Mykelti Williamson), though Rashad has assumed both the big brother and father role for Ant.

So the hard-working teen is distressed to find his younger sibling hanging around with Marcus (Antwan Andre Patton, or Big Boi from hip-hop act OutKast). He's a local drug lord, and his employees have the disturbing tendency to disappear.

That particular story line seems a little out of sorts with the rest of the movie, which is considerably more lighthearted. Also, the filmmakers have some difficulty trying to juggle the various subplots.

One of them involves Rashad's romance with New New (Lauren London), while another sees Rashad's best friend Esquire (Jackie Long) trying to get into an Ivy League school — and not all of these stories are resolved satisfactorily.

Newcomer Harris has surprising screen presence, and the energetic skating sequences do occasionally buoy the material.

"ATL" is rated PG-13 for occasional use of strong profanity (including one usage of the so-called "R-rated" curse word), crude sexual references and innuendo, a couple of strong scenes of violence (a beating and a shooting), some drug content (references to marijuana use and sale), use of racial epithets, brief sex and other sexual contact, and glimpses of some nude magazine photos. Running time: 105 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com

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