Monday, June 13, 2011

Drumline (2002)

Drumline (2002)
Dir. Charles Stone III

2.5 out of 5

Essentially a football movie where all the action takes place at halftime, Drumline works hard to put a fresh spin on a familiar narrative. Focusing on a brash young freshman drummer (Nick Cannon) who arrives at the fictional Atlanta A&T on a band scholarship, the movie doesn't take long to ramp up petty institutional politics into life or death situations. Cannon's talent is apparently so prodigious that it's dangerous. Both his drum major and his band director (a lobotomized Orlando Jones) seethe at him for being so good. As if that weren't enough, the university president shows up to inform Jones that if he refuses to "modernize" his program (read: play some damn hip-hop songs), donors will revolt and the band will cease to exist. Why he just couldn't fire the band director, I don't know. I suppose that the climatic competition wouldn't have as much juice without a looming scythe.

The villains and stakes of Drumline are so pointedly absurd because it's not the type of movie that really requires a villain. The bad is mostly in the abstract; nobody's going to die in Drumline but the film requires personifications of jealousy, stubbornness, and pride if it hopes to proceed with any kind of story. It's mostly held together by bits and pieces of other, more memorable movies, but this is accomplished in probably the most dignified way possible. It's hardly a happy-go-lucky collegiate romp - it more closely resembles a morality play. I did not expect this from a guy who is best known for creating, directing, and starring in the Budweiser "Wassup!?" commercials.

The bulk of the film is spent on numerous exhibitions of exuberant marching band performances. This seems like a wise decision. I was in a high school marching band for one year of intense but unexhilarating memories. I was only vaguely aware of the style of performance portrayed in Drumline. Seeing truly is believing when it comes to trumpet players who do the splits and choreographed drum cadences that look like what you'd get if you told a dance crew to strap on a bunch of basses and snares. Drumline scores points for its effort regardless of its overall success. Otherwise, it is quite exemplary of a recent generation of plucky just-gotta-perform youth pictures - the performances may be spellbinding and kinetic, but the rest is a derivation on an old theme.

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