Drumline

on December 13, 2002 by Tim Cogshell
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There are more subcultures on a college campus than one can begin to imagine. There are students who dedicate mind, body and spirit to academic pursuits, sports, fraternities, sororities. Among the southern universities, the marching band is a microcosm that holds great importance, and within that subculture there is a sub-subculture called the Drumline. Making the Drumline of a noted university marching band is the single-minded pursuit that defines many a musically minded high school percussionist. Weird, but true. The movie "Drumline" is about this group, but that's only the trapping. It's really just a coming-of-age tale about a inner-city kid with enormous talent who has to learn a little something about teamwork, unity and all the usual coming-of-age movie crap that gets woven into the predictable narratives of such often-mundane studio fodder. Truth be told, it also sometimes makes for pretty good youth flicks, "Youngblood" with a 22-year-old Rob Lowe and "All the Right Moves," an early Tom Cruise picture, being memorable examples. And, as films designed for and about youth of color go, "Drumline" is particularly well considered. Still, it's rife with nutty clich├ęs and far too much dialogue--especially urban street banter in the vein of, "Yo, yo, yo... D. What's cracking, dogg." Lines like this are only in the script to prove something, which makes it less relevant and even more annoying.

In any case, a young, insanely charming and handsome Harlem street drummer, Devon (Nick Cannon of "Men in Black II"), wins a scholarship to a southern university and its popular but waning marching band. There he clashes with the music director (Orlando Jones "Evolution") and the band's lead drummer. Devon is the kind of kid who covers insecurity with attitude and is prone to outbursts of rampant individuality. Frankly, he's annoying, too. But, because this is a highly formulaic film, he learns a lesson (dubious though it is) about honor and loyalty and that previously mentioned concept of teamwork. He also falls in love with a sexy, sophisticated southern belle cheerleader (Zoe Saldana of "Center Stage") and everything turns out well in the end.

Orlando Jones gives a surprisingly pithy and contained performance one would like to see in the service of weightier material; Zoe is beautiful and delightful in a sweet though obligatory role; and the young Nick Cannon might be a star in the making. Director Charles Stone III ("Paid in Full") may want to consult some of the classics should he decide to helm another film that depends so much on blocking for photography as a film about marching bands does; a little knowledge of Busby Berkeley would have been a great help. And a movie about drums ought to be felt as much as seen. Much of the driving force of "Drumline" is simply lost in the mix. Starring Nick Cannon, Zoe Saldana and Orlando Jones. Directed by Charles Stone III. Written Tina Gordon Chism and Shawn Schepps. Produced by Timothy M. Bourne, Wendy Finerman and Jody Gerson. A Fox 2000 release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for innuendo and language. Running time: 118 min

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