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Friday, March 31, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

Fresh young actors, director keep it real in "ATL"

Special to The Seattle Times

For a run-of-the-mill hip-hop drama, "ATL" has some engaging hooks that set it apart from the predictable formula of urban youth struggling to steer clear of crime and pull themselves up to a better life.

Foremost is an appealing cast of mostly newcomers fleshing out snappy dialogue that genuinely sounds like it's coming out of the mouths of teenagers in the oppressive reality of metropolitan Atlanta (what they refer to in airport parlance as ATL).

Making his acting debut is rap heartthrob Tip Harris (known as T.I. to those in the target audience) as Rashad, the older of two orphans who've been dumped into the care of a loser uncle (Mykelti Williamson). On top of his struggle to maintain a love life and stay true to himself, Rashad is also saddled with the role of father figure to his brother Ant (Evan Ross Naess), who's only a couple of years younger.

Movie review 3 stars


Showtimes and trailer

"ATL," with Tip Harris, Lauren London, Evan Ross Naess, Mykelti Williamson, Keith David, Antwan Andre Patton. Directed by Chris Robinson, from a screenplay by Tina Gordon Chism, based on a story by Antwone Fisher. 106 minutes. Rated PG-13 for drug content, language, sexual material and some violence. Several theaters.

In one of the movie's more conventional threads, Ant finds himself susceptible to the glamorous gangsta lure of the street-drug trade, thanks to the flash of crime biggie Marcus (rapper Big Boi, aka Antwan Andre Patton) and his signature black pickup.

The social center of ATL for Rashad and his crew is a monster roller-skating rink, where they gather on Sunday nights (don't worry, "ATL" has no design on the charms of last year's period skate movie "Roll Bounce.")

Lots of interesting characters and performers roll around the rink and the rest of "ATL," especially the trio of Rashad's best friends. Harris proves himself to be a winning screen presence by keeping Rashad's turmoil just under the boiling point.

In all, the momentum of a smart script and crisp, unfussy direction by first-timer Chris Robinson make "ATL" an attractive destination for its specific demographic.

Ted Fry: tedfry@hotmail.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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