THE air around OutKast’s “Idlewild” is humid and thick as gravy, and I’m not talking about the summer haze enveloping the fictional Southern town where the film takes place. The movie starring hip-hop’s top duo and the sort-of soundtrack sharing its name — both out this week — are being greeted with a grim earnestness that seems quite overblown, given that pop stars are always making entertainingly flawed cinematic forays and off-kilter soundtracks to go with them.
Internet tastemakers are declaring “Idlewild” “the end of ‘Kast.” More positive reviews still say the record’s awfully weird. Even the deluge of flattery in glossy magazines, expected for a $27-million HBO-sponsored release, hangs heavy with awkward questions about whether Andre “Andre 3000” Benjamin and Antwan “Big Boi” Patton are even speaking and which Prince movie will finally provide “Idlewild’s” best analogy: the miraculously successful “Purple Rain” or the embarrassing “Under the Cherry Moon.”
It’s not a condemnation to note that “Idlewild” has a lot in common with Prince’s first film flop. Both projects followed a breakthrough moment for a forward-thinking act who’d made it deeper into the mainstream than anyone expected: the legendary “Purple Rain” for Prince and the diamond-certified double-disc “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below” for OutKast. Both films tell the classic story of artist as outlaw, sacrificing conventional happiness in favor of sensuality and creative inspiration; Prince’s Christopher Tracy is a gigolo shot down while on the run with his forbidden love, while Benjamin and Patton’s Percival and Rooster are two small-town showmen who escape drudgery nightly at a joint paradoxically named Church, only to court death pursuing their Cotton Club dreams. Both films draw nostalgic connections between contemporary black culture and the golden age of speak-easy piano-tinkling — Prince went vintage by sporting a pencil mustache and bolero hat; Benjamin and Patton opt for zoot suits and breeches. And both film “soundtracks” (Prince’s was called “Parade”) touch lightly upon prewar musical styles to further the musical experiments their makers had already begun.