Rashad (rapper Tip Harris) is a smart, good-looking kid who is left orphaned when his parents are killed in a car accident. He and his troublemaking little brother, Ant (Evan Ross Naess), go to live with their cereal-hoarding uncle (one bowl per unwanted burdensome child) played by "Forrest Gump's" Mykelti Williamson (who's aged well into such otherwise thankless roles). Rashad is the defacto leader of a group of kids who are not gangsters, but understand the crunchy environs of their Mechanicsville neighborhood perhaps more than any kid should. All these kids have dreams, and they range from going to an Ivy League school to becoming hip-hop impresarios. Rashad is looking at graduation and a life with little to offer as he attempts to navigate a path to his dream of becoming rapper without having to shoot or be shot by anyone.
It's a worn but realistic cliché for the zeitgeist. He meets a girl called New-New (Lauren London) who is perpetrating the persona of a "real hoodrat," but is in fact the middle-class daughter of an executive (Keith David, "Dirty") who worked hard to get his kid away from the very environment to which Erin (New-New's real name) is so drawn. Meanwhile, Ant finds himself in over his head with a local gangster (played by recording star and Outkast co-founder Big Boi, in his debut acting role).
In the end, it all turns out predictably well, which is a good thing. The story for "ATL" is from Antwone Fisher, screenwriter of the Denzel Washington's directorial debut "The Antwone Fisher Story." The screenplay is by "Drumline" writer Tina Gordon Chism. Brown's visual rendering of a literally hot-lanta, along with the quintessentially colloquial characterizations of all manner of Dirty South fauna and flora, makes "ATL" an exceptional movie for its weight and class, which is that of a light urban coming-of-age dramedy where the veneer may be darkly intriguing, but the finish is pure homily, of the sort where lessons are learned and dreams do come true. Starring Tip Harris, Lauren London, Evan Ross Naess, Antwan Andre Patton, Mykelti Williamson, Keith David and Big Boi. Directed by Chris Brown. Written by Tina Gordon Chism. Produced by Will Smith. A Warner Bros. release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for drug content, language, sexual material and some violence. Running time: 103 min