"ATL," like its name, is an abbreviation: part teen angst film, part comedy, part social commentary film, part sports (if roller-skating is a sport) film. None of which makes a whole.
The unfortunate thing is in the few moments that ATL works it really works, but there are only a scattering of scenes that come close. The first half of the film, which introduces four friends living in Atlanta, never really starts up. Nothing catches on until the end. Rashad (rapper Tip "T.I." Harris) and his three close friends are graduating high school and questioning what will happen in their future, but this idea is quickly sidetracked by their quest to win a roller skating competition; Rashad starting to date New-New (that's not the name her parents gave her) and Rashad's little brother Ant getting involved in drugs; plus Esquire, one of Rashad's friends, trying to make it into college. As if that isn't all over the place, there are a myriad of sub plots, some of which get fleshed out and some of which are forgotten, that include a jealous ex-girlfriend and an angry mother. The film literally has the attention span of a music video, culminating in an ending that supposedly ties everything together but really just makes more of a mess.
For most of the first half, there is no serious conflict. Rashad narrates over the beginning, setting the audience up for a dose of real life but all there is are random laughs and zero issues.
New-New is such a laughable character it is almost impossible to believe a guy like Rashad would want to be with her at all. For the first half of the film, she is almost devoid of any depth at all and her friends — two twin teens — never develop into more than something to look at, if they are that.
Of course when director Chris Robinson introduces almost every female character with a close up shot of their rear end in slow motion, you shouldn't really expect much from the women of the film.
The entire movie takes a sort of gangster/pimp attitude to how women should appear in public: big booties and loud mouths. It's a shame because as the characters unfold one can tell their use to be some depth to at least New-New before Robinson started shooting.
The frantic direction and womanizing can probably be blamed on first-time director Robinson, who directed mostly rap music videos before this. It shows throughout, as scenes are often clipped together for style instead of substance and almost every second of the film has a sound track running behind it. Worst of all much of the film is edited to the music making scenes that could of been slightly poignant seem like just another music video clip.
The saving grace of "ATL" is Harris who, with some practice, could be a very intriguing actor. He is surrounded by other actors, especially Lauren London, who give him nothing and yet he still makes scenes work.
Clearly there are a myriad of issues confronting black teens in the world but trying to tackle them all is where "ATL" makes its mistake. Maybe if Robinson had been more concerned with his story and less concerned with fancy roller skating moves and girls butts "ATL" would of had some substance to it.