ďDrumlineĒ is an energetic movie with fun beats and good rhythm, but only when the bands hit the 50 yard line. Whenever the movie was about anything else, it failed to engage me. Whoever has complained that there isnít enough marching, is right. Even when the drums are pounding, the choreography seems artificial, and isnít that great. Maybe my expectations were too high, but Iíve seen better performances from real college marching bands (specifically my FSU Marching Chiefs) at real college football games.
Unfortunately, ďDrumlineĒ is not all about music. Itís a plot that is all too familiar in Hollywood. Self flattering hot-shot Devon (Nick Cannon) has joined the Atlanta A&T marching band, and wants to be the shining star of the percussion section. Sean (Leonard Roberts), is the drum major who is jealous of Devonís talents, and will get into many confrontations with Devon throughout the movie. They are enemies, but if youíve ever seen a movie before, you know that it will only be a matter of time before the quarreling ends. The director of the band is Dr. Aaron Lee (Orlando Jones-that goofy guy from the 7-Up commercials). He was recently hired to do what no other director has done, beat the current champions, Morris Brown, in the (fictional) BET Big Southern Classic that is held in Atlanta every year.
Dr. Lee has a problem. The President of Atlanta A&T is pressuring Lee to win, because a win at BET will mean more money from the alumni. Second place is apparently no good. Winning will be hard to do, because the judges of the competition prefer flashy lights and hardcore beats over old school classical tunes and regular school marching.
MBU is the Ďevil,í and the antagonist in the story. Their colors might as well have been red and black, because their purple is the only bright in them. Their director, is of course superior to Dr. Lee. Lee once worked for him at MBU--Itís been awhile since I last saw a good vs. evil movie where the leader of the good didnít once work for the evil as an apprentice, vowing to conquer him before the movie ends.
The film hits rock-bottom when a certain fact about Devon is revealed that should have ended the movie right then and there. Now knowing this, I wondered how Devon could have ever made it as a drummer. He would have flunked out of his high school band class before getting the chance to graduate. I will mention what that fact is in the last line of my review, but if it you want to be surprised, donít read the spoiler and know that it is like a doctor without a license to practice, or a lawyer who skipped the bar exam.
MBU is a real school known for their excellent marching band, but they are anything but a legitimate marching band in this movie. While Dr. Leeís philosophy is to play classical, more intelligent music through musicianship, MBU plays the more garish tunes laced with liberal dancing. They also get rapper Petey Pablo to star in one of their shows. Why have the band march at all from that point?
MBUís director knows that Devon isnít doing well at A&T. Devon visits the rival school after his arrogance gets him into trouble and after he is offered a position in their band next year. When Devon tells them that he canít *****, the director shrugs it off as no big deal.
Devon falls for one the dancers, Laila (Zoe Saldana). She is the head dancer, so it is only natural since Devon is the best drummer. Laila is an upperclassman, but thanks to Hollywood convenience, she is single. Through most of the movie, she doesnít take Devon seriously. But what girl does take the hero seriously from the beginning? That would be too easy. Again, I waited for something original to jump out, but I was left for dead at the start of the ending credits.
The plot is unexciting. The only thing that appears to be new, is that the black star doesnít come from a nightmarish childhood. After graduating high school, he visited his father at work who abandoned him as a child. He said, ďI made it. Iíve never been arrested and I donít have a bunch of kids running around at home.Ē That was the only part of the story that I liked. Roger Ebert wrote that ď(the movie) celebrates black success.Ē I wouldnít go that far.
ďDrumlineĒ is cut into two parts. The story that I mentioned above, and the actual marching; the performing. Youíve already picked up from this review that I wasnít crazy for the story, but there were also several plot holes. For one, Devon is on a full scholarship. There comes a point in the movie when Devon is kicked out of the band, yet he still lives on campus before attempting to make a comeback. Wouldnít that scholarship have been revoked? Why was he allowed to still live in the music dorm? As for the performances part, it was like watching one big half-time show after awhile. Granted the drumline competitions are interesting and fun to watch, but those arenít enough to save this movie.
Charles Stone, the guy who directed the brilliant ďPaid in Full,Ē did his best on this one. The right slow motion shots and close camera angles is what allowed me to at least enjoy some of the movie. The acting and performances, even from Jones, were impressive. Under Devonís arrogance, there is charm, but Iíve seen that scenario too many times. If ďDrumlineĒ has a hidden message for me, itís that maybe I should stop watching movies, and come back 20 years later when maybe Iíll find clichťs to be fresh.
I will now tell you the one fact that still angers me every time I think about it. If you donít want to know, donít read anymore. Devon canít read music! Iíve tried to think of ways this could have worked, but it canít. Why didnít he learn in school? How did he become so good? I donít accept the movieís answer, which is that he imitates the person in front of him by memorizing the notes. I can't let that fly. Devon canít read music!