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ATL

Review by Tom Cappello

Four friends are just hanging out at the Waffle House discussing life and chasing girls. During these moments, ATL is at its best as a film about the bond of friendship and family and is reminiscent of the coming of age tale, Diner (Barry Levinson, 1982). The main difference is the characters in ATL are African American high school kids growing up on the south side of Atlanta under different socio-economic conditions and pressures. Fortunately, their worries and concerns in life are provided an outlet in the form of a pair of roller skates that roll to the energy and thump of hip-hop and rap music every Sunday night at the 1980s-infused, neon-lit Cascade Roller Rink.

 

Tip "T.I." Harris plays Rashad, the emotional core of the story who is a big brother not only to his wayward little brother, Ant (Antoine, played by Evan Ross, son of Diana Ross), but to all his friends.

Mr. Harris seems poised to emerge as the next great rapper turned actor, but regrettably his natural, organic presence in the film plays against the clichés that find their way into the plot.:

  • Young teen (Ant) can't say no to pushing drugs for money.

  • High school girl (Rashad's girlfriend New New, played by Lauren London) looks for her roots on the other side of the tracks, and loses her man by being dishonest about her true silver spoon upbringing.

  • Ambitious teen learns that success is not worth selling out and decides to stay true to his roots.

And in the end, everyone learns that life cannot be forgotten every Sunday night at the skating rink.

There is no denying the directorial talent of Chris Robinson that is displayed during the visually inspired, perfectly choreographed skating sequences, and in the strong performance he pulls out of his young actors. It is just a shame that these compelling characters and fun sequences get lost in the heavy handed plot, energy-draining voice over, and trite ending where all the divergent storylines tie neatly together.

The ATL has a strong sense of place ripe for a coming of age drama where life is hard and dreams are difficult to keep alive. Unfortunately, this film full of real moments gets lost in an unreal, tidy ending. These characters deserve more time in the ATL to just hang at the Waffle House, Cascade, and the city pool allowing real life drama to unfold naturally in a more convincing fashion.

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