The tag line for ATL is "A New American Story," but just because it's a false promise shouldn't necessarily discourage you from seeing the movie. Yes, ATL can be disappointingly conventional at times, but it's heartening to be able to report that ATL is as much like Diner as it is like Boys in the Hood. Music-video director Chris Robinson may overdose on style, but he also respects the homegrown origins of this ATLanta-bred tale.
Screenwriter Tina Gordon Chism works from a story by Antwone Fisher who, in turn, loosely followed the formative Atlantan experiences of producers Dallas Austin and Tionne Watkins. Chism looks at a group of friends flexing their adult muscles and "trying to figure out what's next." The central figure, skilled artist Rashad (rapper Tip "T.I." Harris), struggles not to lose Ant (Evan Ross), the little brother Rashad's been trying to parent since their parents died in a car accident Rashad's buddies—street poet Brooklyn (Albert "Al Be" Daniels), comic-relief Teddy (Jason Weaver), and Ivy League-bound Esquire (Jackie Long)—rally zingy banter at roller-rink Cascades.
Naturally, some fly girls are on hand, like the Red Bull-sipping twin sistahs Star and Veda (Malika and Kadijah) and girl-with-a-secret New-New (Lauren London), who gets the romantic attention of Rashad. The hanging-out dialogue rings true, as do the passing details: arguments over the best barbecue, bonding over Good Times reruns and morning-after sexual debriefings, or having to climb out the rear window of a busted station wagon. Naturally, the parents just don't understand. Keith David's CEO determines to forget his "ghetto" roots, even as he chomps cigars and swigs toasts before a portrait of a proud Confederate soldier; meanwhile, Rashad and Ant's Uncle Charlie (the amusing Mykelti Williamson) provides a dubious role model.
Naturally, the soundtrack features hot artists like Outkast (Antwan Andre "Big Boi" Patton also brings flair to the role of troubling drug dealer Marcus), but Robinson's flashy style extends beyond the music. Overworking his Steadicam and editing trickery, Robinson channels Scorsese by way of P.T. Anderson. The real pleasures of ATL are subtler: the talented young cast and good humor. Even the turns into melodrama aren't egregious, and Chism fairly takes the opportunity for instruction to impressionable younger viewers. "I believe in you even when you're too stupid to believe in your damn self," Rashad explains to Ant, adding, "I can't be a man for you."