With very little violence (and no body count), the rapper-filled ATL is a change of pace from your typical urban movie.
After the death of their parents, Rashad (Tip ''T.I.'' Harris) and his younger brother, Ant (Evan Ross), have to fend for themselves. Trying not to think about his pending high school graduation, Rashad works as a janitor for his stingy uncle (Mykelti Williamson) and hangs out with his friends, practicing for the Skate Wars competition at their local roller rink. Ant, however, approaches life differently after he hooks up with Marcus (Big Boi), a big-time drug dealer in the area. Marcus recruits Ant to do his dirty work, and the kid gets himself tangled up in the harsh world of drugs, money, and violence. It's up to his older brother to get him out of it and finally steer him in the right direction.
ATL proves some rapper-turned-actors can indeed be in a movie not based on their real lives. Known as "The King of the South" in the rap world, T.I. displays some notable acting skills. Born and raised in the ATL (that's Atlanta to us lay folk), his southern slang and cool demeanor lend credibility. As well, Big Boi (half of the Atlanta-based hip-hop group OutKast) does a nice job giving his drug lord character multi-layers. He plays it smooth, recruiting high school kids and promising them more money then they have ever seen. When they don't pay up, he then turns on a dime and becomes quite menacing. And watch out for Evan Ross, the youngest son of the legendary Diana Ross. In his debut performance as Ant, he tugs at your heart, even when you're hoping Rashad will smack him for the bad choices he makes.
Music video director Chris Robinson makes his feature directing debut with ATL, a story loosely based on ATL producers Dallas Austin and Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins' (of TLC fame) experiences growing up in Atlanta. With many of the hottest hip-hop artists coming out of Atlanta, Robinson--along with first-time screenwriter Tina Gordon Chism--impressively incorporates the music without focusing on it. Sure, the soundtrack crunks it up, but this is not a film about a wannabe rapper trying to make it out of the hood and into the spotlight. There aren't any lengthy shootouts, and no one dies. Instead, ATL interweaves compelling themes of family dynamics, rich vs. poor--and even a roller skating motif, which seems to come out of left field but provides some fun moments. ATL is a breath of fresh air for a hip-hop movie that isn't about hip-hop.
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 stars.