March 6, 2006

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ATL (R)
reviewed by Amy Diaz

A group of almost-out-of-high-school boys in a working-class-and-poorer neighborhood in Atlanta try to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives in the roller-rink-centered ATL.

If you saw last year's Roll Bounce, a lot of the points in ATL will sound familiar but there is more of an edge to this film. The somewhat younger kids in Roll Bounce's South Side of Chicago are a bit ahead of ATL's characters in the socioeconomic scheme of things.

Take Rashad (Tip "T.I." Harris). His parents are dead and his boneheaded brother has moved in to the family home. It's really just Rashad watching out for himself and his brother Ant (Evan Ross Naess), no easy task as Ant is starting to be wooed by the life and the money of the local drug dealer. Then there's Esquire (Jackie Long). He's hustled his way into a better school and acceptance at an Ivy League school but needs help to get a scholarship that could pay for this way out. Trepidatiously approaching adulthood, these boys hang on to their youth in part by hanging out at the local roller rink, the Cascade, where they are skating superstars. It's also where they go to pick up girls, such as the ghetto fabulous New-New (Lauren London), but where there are girls there are always problems.

The troubles of puppy love and the antics of Rashad's wider circle of friends aren't exactly breathtaking in their freshness but ATL gives these sitcomy moments to us with enough charm and humor that we can forgive having seen them before. What's a little fresher is the stuff about class, especially class differences within an ethnic group. The daily struggle makes the sudden intrusion of a kid from a wealthy neighborhood seem almost like a mockery of the poorer kids. The young actors seem committed to giving their roles some heart and don't let the nuance get lost in the melodrama.

Though not groundbreaking, ATL offers a sweet, engaging slice of coming-of-age life. B-


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