January 25, 2007

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Stomp the Yard (PG-13)
A fraternity brings on the fierce stepping action during a battle with an evil rival fraternity in Stomp the Yard, a delightfully camptacular variation on the dance-will-save-you movie genre.

I suppose some will see this as a variation on the sports movie — you’ve got your kid from the wrong side of the tracks given a chance to go to college and make something of himself with a natural athletic ability which a team wants to use for his and their mutual benefit. But that is also the plot of any good dance movie — from Strictly Ballroom to Take the Lead and even to You Got Served, the story arc of a dance movie is for a misfit who hides amazing skills beneath a rough exterior to prove their worth, learn to stand up for themselves and win the guy/girl. And yes, there is always a guy/girl to be won.

In this case it’s DJ (Columbus Short) who wants to win April (Meagan Good), a girl he sees on his very first day at Truth University. She, naturally, already has a boyfriend — a bully who just happens to be the head of a humility-free frat that has racked up years of wins at a stepping championship. DJ, in part because he’s contrarian like that and in part because he was a bad-ass street battler back in the day, decides to join the other frat, the one that doesn’t win as often as the upscale, neuvo riche bully frat but has class and brotherhood and dignity and other important things conveyed by the shameless use of portraits of civil rights activists in its frat museum. DJ wants to belong — in part to honor his brother, who died after an act of DJ’s bravado got them into the world’s lamest, most pointless street brawl — but he also takes a while to learn the ways of the brotherhood. Only after he learns to set aside ego to help the team can he truly succeed at stomping the yard.

That occasional fighting is mixed in with the dance-fighting helps to underline just how West Side Story campy this style of dance can be. Stepping, as performed here, mixes aggressive dance moves with a mocking-the-enemy sensibility. And then, after the characters do this in step, they go right into a scene where they do this “for real.” It’s an excellent contrast because there is so little difference. Just as the girls of Bring It On were as sassifull while cheering as while walking the halls, so are the men of Gamma and Theta just as blustery in yard or off.

I have but a few bones to pick with this otherwise genre-perfect cheesefest. Stomp the Yard includes a subplot about an older generation of rivalries and disappointments that adds a needless 20 minutes to a movie which is at least 30 minutes too long. Also, a strange freeze-frame style of shooting the dance moves actually makes is harder, not easier, to see exactly what’s so wow-worthy about some of the more spectacular moves.

But who can quibble with a few unpopped kernels of cheesey corn? This tasty bit of snack food is a just-what-you’d-expect delight. C

Rated PG-13 for a scene of violence, some sexual material and language. Directed by Sylvain White and written by Robert Adetuyi (with an earlier screenplay by Gregory Ramon Anderson), Stomp the Yard is and hour and 55 minutes long and is distributed by Sony Pictures in wide release