Can OutKast's Marriage Be Saved?

Seersucker slacks, saddle shoes, a crisp white jacket--why has Andre (Andre 3000) Benjamin, the eccentric half of the rap duo OutKast, worn this to drop into their pot-smoke-permeated, pit-bull-friendly Stankonia studios in Atlanta? His partner, Antwan (Big Boi) Patton (baggy jeans and a T shirt with a porn shot of a naked woman), gives him the once-over. "What the f--- is that? A Members Only jacket?" "I don't know what you're talkin' about," Dre drawls. "You the one still wearin' the same outfit you did in 1998."

Despite their differences--or because of them--Dre and Big Boi have succeeded for a decade in loop-de-looping the parameters of rap, and proving to formula-minded labels that the masses really were ready to shake it like a Polaroid. Their last release, 2003's double CD "Speakerboxxx/ The Love Below"--the first disc all by Big Boi, the second all by Dre--was a sonic freak show that sold 11 million copies. "After every record," says Dre, "it's like, 'Whew! We got away with that one'." So why not try to get away with a splashy Hollywood musical, with the two of them singing, acting, even dancing?

OutKast's "Idlewild," which opened last week, might remind viewers of "Moulin Rouge" if it weren't set in a 1930s Georgia speakeasy and didn't feature an all-black cast (including Terrence Howard, Ving Rhames and Ben Vereen). The original score is a Big Boi-Dre blend of vaudeville and hip-hop. Dre is Percival, a shy piano virtuoso/mortician, and Big Boi is Rooster, a small-time club owner and moonshine runner. For once, Big Boi upstages his charismatic partner. "The obvious choice," says writer-director Bryan Barber, "would have been to make Dre the lead. But notice how I surrounded Big Boi with women, so it was easier for him to be himself."

Big Boi flips a switch on the mixing board, and a tune from "Idlewild" called "Don't Chu Worry 'Bout Me" comes bouncing through the speakers. They bob their heads in unison, but when the music stops, so does the simpatico mood. Big Boi turns to a crew member to discuss why he can't wear his T shirt around the wife and kids. Dre picks up a calculator and starts randomly tapping in numbers until it's time to leave. "Friendwise, we have no beef between us," Dre says later, "but it's gotten to the point where we want to move on. It's kinda like a girlfriend-boyfriend relationship where you don't hate each other, but it's time to let loose."

Nevertheless, Dre denies the duo are actually parting ways ... just yet. Big Boi never even addresses the question--because you can't hold his attention long enough to ask. "Idlewild" suggests there might be more reason to keep working together than they're letting on. Since neither Dre nor Big Boi seems to know, really, if it's all over, we wouldn't bet a nickel either way.