STOMP THE YARD

PG-13

-By David Noh


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Stomp the Yard is all too typical of modern-day "urban" musicals, even more rife with cliché and sentiment than any old Hollywood 42nd Street ever dreamt of being, with stars breaking ankles at the last minute for understudies to take over and shine. Today's musicals always seem to begin with some kind of gangland ruckus, in which someone close to the hero dies, and end with a rousing, face-saving big competition involving the inevitable presence of MTV, where dancers face off in a flurry of cameras-gone-wild, speed-edited routines to the thunderously amped-up cheers of avid crowds.

This is where DJ (Columbus Short) eventually finds himself after experiencing the vicissitudes of joining a fraternity at African-American Truth University in Atlanta. DJ has a dark past involving the gangland death of a brother following a dance-off in Los Angeles. He wants to score with coed princess April (Meagan Good), but has incurred the wrath of her snotty boyfriend, who heads the powerful rival fraternity. That power stems mainly from the frat's ubiquitous triumph each year in the all-important step-dance competition, for which the brothers train arduously all year long. (They certainly don't seem to be cracking the books all that much.) DJ has also angered April's father (Allan Louis), who is the University provost and sees better things for his daughter.

I suppose it's pure futility by now to rail against the inevitable overblown film technique which chops onscreen choreography into thousands of tiny visual bytes and sheer incomprehensibility. Instead of lessening, this modern cliché has only intensified--now the film is either speeded up or slowed down to pack even more senseless punch into the dances. With this kind of pervasive heavy-handedness, even the most physically challenged can appear to be as adept as Fred Astaire and Savion Glover combined. Ultra-intrusive director Sylvain White should be chained to a chair and made to watch the complete oeuvres of Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen for the migraine-inducing crimes he commits, which rob the numbers of any joy or human flavor they might have possessed.

On the plus side, Short has a low-key, modest appeal--although the jury must remain out concerning his actual dance skills--and juicy-faced Good makes a comely, spunky love object for him (even if the costume designer has dressed her like a lap dancer). Valarie Pettiford and Harry J. Lennix provide respective warmth and dignity as DJ's nurturing aunt and uncle. The assorted frat boys, like handsome Brian White, go through their jocose, bullying paces and must be commended for keeping straight faces while delivering rallying lines like, "We're TNT! You know that's the most powerful explosive known to mankind, so let's go out there and show 'em!"


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