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Roller Rink Revivalists, Rejoice!

The depths of teen angst, isolation, and alienation have been so thoroughly plumbed via "coming of age" flicks that there are few (if any) twists that can provide something substantively different or original. While ATL contains many all too familiar "coming of age" elements such as the girl getting involved with the boy on the wrong side of the tracks, there's more to ATL than meets the eye.

At the heart of ATL (shorthand for Atlanta) is the story of the orphaned Rashad (played by upcoming rapper T.I.) who lives with his deadbeat Uncle George and his all too impressionable younger brother, Ant. This trio covers the mortgage by cleaning offices after hours. It's a marginal existence and one that is not exactly conducive to dreaming.

Rashad hangs with his buddies Esquire (Jackie Long), Brooklyn (Albert Daniels), and Teddy (Jason Weaver). Esquire aspires to get into an Ivy League school and live the high life. Brooklyn's struggling to hold down a job. Teddy's just trying to graduate. While the drives and motivations of these characters are not entirely clear, who at age 17 really fully understands "why" they do what they do or why they want something.

The kids spend most of their free time at a roller rink (Cascade) that is unlike anything ever seen on screen (no, I haven't seen Roll Bounce). With a DJ spinning records, multicolored lights dancing on the floor and ceilings, it feels like Saturday Night Fever on wheels. The time we spend watching these kids vent their frustrations on the rink is amazingly entertaining. Truly, watching Rashad and his crew putting down their moves on the rink is worth the price of admission.

Part of what works in ATL is the air of authenticity that is pervasive. This isn't some anonymous suburb. This is Atlanta or rather ATL. It is this authenticity that director Chris Robinson brings to the film ATL that enables the film to rise above other "coming of age" stories that cover similar territory. You can feel the oppressive humidity of Atlanta. The plantation houses, the elitist country clubs, and the implicit segregation are all part of the backdrop of this story.

While the time and attention dedicated to capturing the essence of ATL on film is commendable, the film does have some issues that can't be overlooked. The story is endearing, but unremarkable. There is little that Rashad and his gang struggles with that hasn't been seen before.

However, the biggest shortcoming of ATL is an ending that is far too tidy and simply doesn't ring true. A little more time spent at the Cascade roller rink and a bit less time mired in adolescent trials and tribulations might have been a good idea.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars