Columbus Short as DJ
Meagan Good as April
Ne-Yo as Rich Brown
Darrin Dewitt Henson as Grant
Brian J. White as Sylvester
Laz Alonso as Zeke
Valarie Pettiford as Jackie
Jermaine Williams as Noel
Allan Louis as Dr. Palmer
Harry J. Lennix as Nate
Chris Brown as Duron
After barely surviving a deadly street fight, young DJ (Columbus Short) is packed off to Atlanta to attend fictional Truth University (an amalgam of sorts of Howard University and Morehouse College) and possibly rise above the circumstances of his life. But first he has to get over the guilt he feels for his brother’s (Chris Brown) death and reengage with life again, and the way to do that just might be the local fraternities step line.
It’s a little bit of a musical, a little bit of a sports film, a little bit coming-of-age story. And none of it, beyond the dancing, any good.
At first feeling isolated and alone, DJ starts to open up when he encounters beautiful co-ed April (Meagan Good), who is unfortunately involved with the local step line champ and all-around jerk, Grant (Darrin Dewitt Henson). In an effort to show Grant up and get April’s attention he joins the opposing fraternity, but despite himself he soon, oh god, it’s so clichéd I can’t even finish writing it. Needless to say, however you think the story goes, you’re probably right.
It touches on themes of classism and the use of education and true fraternity as the only real way to combat poverty and it’s attendant crime. It would be an understatement to suggest that there is nothing remotely novel about “Stomp the Yard’s” themes or approach. It’s all been done better by much better films, and will no doubt be done better again in the future. “Stomp the Yard” adds nothing to any of the genres it works in.
Considering it’s the main selling point of the film, a lot of time and attention has been given to the dance routines, and the choreography by Dave Scott is first rate. Some of the more traditional step routines tend to blend into one another after a while, but when it lets go it reaches levels of athleticism and grace similar to ballet or martial arts exhibitions. Unfortunately, the rest of the film doesn’t quite reach those heights.
DJ only shows any sort of personality when he’s dancing; the rest of the time he meanders about, mumbling his lines in a dull monotone. It’s supposed to be representative of his detachment from the rest of the world and his struggle to reconnect and learn to work with others, I imagine. Of course for that angle to work it would require his performance to actually change as the film goes on, and it doesn’t. It seems like Short’s reading off cue cards, either too bored or unsure of the material to know what to do with it.
And he’s not actually a bad actor. He’s done decent work elsewhere, particularly Aaron Sorkin’s “Studio 60,” when he has worked with talented, experienced, and above all, competent, directors. And therein lies all the difference.
“Stomp the Yard” is director Sylvain White’s feature debut after a few years of toiling in direct-to-video land, and if this is the quality we can expect from him, he should go back there. It’s unimaginative at the best of times; at the worst (particularly during an early training montage) it is simply inept. Relatively important story points seem to be passed over in order to make room for more dancing, and at each turn of the plot, more and more garish clichés are drudged up, dutifully moving things along to the next routine.
It should come as no surprise that the story isn’t as important as the dancing is, it’s certainly not what people are going to see the movie for, but they could have tried. So much of “Stomp the Yard” comes from Hollywood Formula 101 that I wonder if it wasn’t actually written by computer or studio fiat. The credits list White’s direct-to-video accomplice Gregory Anderson and Robert Adetuyi (who I just can’t seem to escape), but I’m not convinced.
If you’re going just for the dancing there’s probably some enjoyment to be had – “Stomp the Yard” is energetic and well choreographed – but the rest is just clichéd tripe.