This Prohibition-era musical, tailored to the personas of OutKast's Andre Benjamin and Antwan Patton and directed by their longtime music-video collaborator Bryan Barber, appears to have been conceived as a hip-hop MOULIN ROUGE (2001) — a bold, postmodern reimagining of genre conventions that mixes period costumes and settings (by way of Hollywood at its most glamorously stylized) with thoroughly modern music. Set in small-town Idlewild, Georgia, it revolves around mismatched childhood friends, quiet Percival Jenkins (Benjamin), son of a respectable undertaker, and gregarious, outgoing Rooster (Patton), the local bootlegger's boy. They're united by their passionate love of music, but while pianist Percy lives at home with his aging, tyrannical father (Ben Vereen) and hates drawing attention to himself, natural-born headliner Rooster lives for the limelight. Leaving his God-fearing Zora (Malinda Williams) and their five little girls at home, Rooster raps and postures at a rollicking juke joint called Church, surrounded by scantily clad chorines and accompanied by the self-effacing Percy. Church's owner, jovial huckster Sunshine Ace (Faizon Love), buys his hooch from Rooster's uncle, Spats (Ving Rhames), who wants to retire from the business and offers to sell out to Ace. But Spats' second in command, silky sociopath Trumpy (Terrence Howard, who takes to the period clothes and mannerisms with an ease that eludes the rest of the cast), bridles at answering to a vulgar bumpkin, so he murders them both. Rooster, who inadvertently witnessed the killings, takes over the running of Church and cultivates a headliner in chanteuse Angel Davenport (Paula Patton), who falls hard for Percy and draws him out of his gloomy shell. Rooster also makes the ill-advised decision to cut the rapacious Trumpy out of the profits, which precipitates the inevitable bloody reckoning. The cast is packed with glittering cameos — from Cicely Tyson as a saintly grandma to Macy Gray as a raunchy singer — and fanciful visual conceits, including an embossed rooster that dispenses cheeky advice from the front of a hip flask, and cartoon stick-figure doodles that come to mischievous life on the pages of Percy's sheet music. The trouble is the dramatic sequences, which drag down the stunning musical numbers choreographed by Broadway veteran Hinton Battle. While Battle strikes a high-energy balance between paying homage to old Hollywood musical conventions and goosing them for contemporary sensibilities, Barber's screenplay is mired in cliches that got old in 1935. The film winds up being neither fish nor fowl, and sat on the shelf for the better part of two years before being released.
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