Beats (2019) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): A music drama of familiar beats

Netflix film “Beats”, which should not be confused with the acclaimed 2019 British music drama film of the same name, is a conventional hip-hop drama film consisting of beats familiar to the core. While it has some good music worthwhile to listen and enjoy, it is rather trite and clichéd in terms of story and characters, and that is not compensated enough by the fairly solid efforts from its several main cast members.

Newcomer Khali Everage plays August Monroe, an African American adolescent boy who has been stuck in his little family resident which is located in the South Side area of Chicago. 18 months ago, he and his two close friends made a little crude prank on one of the neighborhood gangs at one night, and it initially looked like they could get away with it, but, alas, his dear older sister was consequently killed instead of him when one of that neighborhood gang members ambushed upon them later. Quite traumatized as a result, August cannot go outside anymore, and it has been more than a year since he stopped attending his high school.

Usually confined in his private place, August has focused on developing new musical beats just like when he and her sister did enthusiastically before her death. He is not so interested in demonstrating his musical results to others around him including his protective mother Carla (Uzo Aduba), but then he comes to draw the attention of Romelo Reese (Anthony Anderson), a high school security guard who happens to drop by August’s residence. At first, Romelo simply comes for persuading August to attend the school again, but, as a washed-out hip-hop producer still hoping for another break, he cannot help but attracted by what August has been developing, though their first encounter is not exactly pleasant to say the least.

Anyway, Romelo later approaches to August again, and, thanks to Romelo’s persistent request, August reluctantly shows Romelo more of what he has been working on for months. As becoming more convinced about August’s considerable musical talent, Romelo decides to be more active about promoting those cool pieces of beats developed by August, but there are a number of obstacles besides August’s fragile mental condition. August’s mother does not approve much of what is going on between Romelo and her son, and Romelo’s estranged wife, who is incidentally the principal of the school, is not that supportive of her husband’s another attempt to hustle his way to the top. Above all, it is still pretty hard for Romelo to get his second chance in the local hip-hop industry field due to his checkered history involved with a certain well-known rapper who was his close friend but died not long after his career breakthrough.

Nevertheless, Romelo is determined to try his best for what may be his last business opportunity, and he also gradually comes to earn the trust from August, who becomes more active about getting out of his cocoon thanks to Romelo’s encouragement. It turns out that he is deeply in love with one neighborhood girl even though he has never directly contacted with her for more than one year, and, once he manages to step outside his residence, he eventually approaches to her via a piece of music dedicated to her. They later come to have a little sweet fun time together in the downtown area thanks to a small help from Romelo, and August certainly feels much happier than before.

Not so surprisingly, the screenplay by Miles Orion Feldsott subsequently throws several plot turns after this point, and that is where the story begins to stumble more than once because of a number of heavy-handed moments. Yes, August’s mother certainly becomes furious when she happens to discover what her son has been doing, and I must point out that her anger is more like than a plot device rather than an understandable human reaction. Yes, it is eventually revealed that Romelo was not totally honest with August from the beginning, but that moment of revelation comes a bit too late in my humble opinion, and the following moment of reconciliation between our two main characters around the end of the story (Is this a spoiler?) does not work as well as intended because of the deficiency of emotional background.

Furthermore, many of supporting characters in the story feel rather underdeveloped without much human depth. While August’s girlfriend is more or less than an obligatory love interest, August’s another friend who has also loved her is simply defined by his jealousy, and Romelo’s wife merely functions as the voice of reason for her husband throughout the film. In case of Romelo’s old associates, they are no more than broad stereotypes you can expect from the local hip-hop industry, and Paul Walter Hauser, who happened to have a career breakthrough in that year thanks to his heartbreaking lead performance in Clint Eastwood’s “Richard Jewell” (2019), is unfortunately under-utilized just like Uzo Aduba, who is usually required to look adamant or tired by her thankless role.

Nevertheless, the movie engages us to some degree under director Chris Robinson’s competent direction, and Everage’s earnest lead performance carries the film well along with Anthony Anderson’s more seasoned acting. Although his acting occasionally feels a bit exaggerated during certain dramatic moments involved with his character’s traumatized state of mind, Everage does not lose our sympathy toward his character at all, and Anderson skillfully complements Everage whenever they share the screen together.

In conclusion, “Beats” is not a total waste of time at all, but it is less colorful and electrifying compared to other recent notable hip-hop drama films such as Craig Brewer’s “Hustle & Flow” (2005), where Anderson incidentally played one of the crucial supporting characters in the story. I will still remember “Hustle & Flow” even after ten more years, but I seriously doubt whether I will be able to remember “Beats” that well at that point.

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