Directed by Sylvain White
Produced by William Packer
Screenplay by Robert Adetuyi
I’m going to be really upfront with you guys and tell you right from the start that there’s not a blessed thing original in STOMP THE YARD and if you’ve seen the trailers you’ve pretty much seen the movie. Fifteen minutes after the movie started Patricia leaned over and said; “Even I can tell how this one is going to go.” Usually it aggravates her that I can be 90% accurate in predicting the next scene of a movie we’re watching and how it’s going to end but this time she was the one doing the predicting. That’s how By-The-Numbers STOMP THE YARD is. But that’s not to say it doesn’t have enjoyable moments and some interesting performances as well as being a movie with an African-American cast that is refreshing in its choice of location and characters.
DJ Williams (Columbus Short) and his brother are the leaders of a team of L.A. based competitive street dancers who have the misfortune to be so skilled that they beat another dance posse who turn out to be really sore losers. So sore that during a brutal fight to get money they won betting on themselves, DJ’s beloved brother is killed. DJ’s mother ships her remaining son to Atlanta, Georgia to live with his cheerful aunt Jackie (Valarie Pettiford) and his take-no-bullshit uncle Nate (Harry Lennix) who have agreed to house DJ while he attends Truth University, a black college where Nate is head gardener. DJ has determined to live out his brother’s dream of going to college the best way he can even though his head is clearly not into the college life.
That is, until he literally runs into April (Meagan Good) who he immediately falls in love with and April’s boyfriend Grant (Darrin Henson) who he immediately falls into active dislike with. April isn’t too impressed with DJ until he demonstrates his mad skills on a dance floor and not only does April start wondering what other kind of moves does he has but DJ finds himself being courted by two rival fraternities, Mu Gamma and Theta Nu Theta, both of whom are experts in the art of step dancing which they treat with the intensity usually reserved for tribal warfare. DJ chooses Theta Nu Theta mainly because it’s the fraternity Grant isn’t a member of. The rivalry is to be decided in a national step-dancing contest. It quickly becomes apparent to DJ that they aren’t going to win with the traditional step dancing techniques and he sets out to convince the head of his frat that by adopting DJ’s crunkin’ moves and blending them into the traditional steps, Theta Nu Theta can win and break Mu Gamma’s seven year winning streak.
The situation is complicated by April’s father, Dr. Palmer who just happens to be the Dean of the university (oh, come on now…like you didn’t see that comin’ a light year away). Dr. Palmer has made a gentleman’s agreement with Grant as to April’s future. They’ve got it all planned out for her and they don’t intend for some ghetto rat to interfere with their plans. Can DJ win the true love of his life and help his newfound brothers of Theta Nu Theta win the step contest? Can he win redemption and forgiveness for himself in the process? If you can’t answer those questions for yourself then you must not go to movies much, my friends.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with STOMP THE YARD. On the contrary, there’s a lot to like about it. It’s refreshing to watch a movie full of black people that’s not set in the ghetto, nobody’s smoking crack or waving gats in each other faces. There’s some serious talk about fraternities and how they’re used as life long financial and emotional support systems for graduates. DJ isn’t portrayed as a barely literate thug. In fact, he’s a sharply intelligent young man with a wry sense of humor carrying around a tremendous burden of guilt at the part he played in his brother’s death. Class issues are brought up, as the relationship between DJ and April turns serious. Dr. Palmer and Grant are upper class and even though DJ is black just like they are they look down on him as if he were some lower form of life. Meagan Good is a joy to watch as she plays an intelligent, sensitive young black woman who thinks with her brain instead of with her hips. She’s great to look at and she’s aware of her sexual power but her character isn’t driven by sex alone.
If anything, STOMP THE YARD suffers from trying to do too many things at one time: it tries to give us a look inside black college life, it tries to be a love story, it’s tries to be a tale of personal growth and redemption and examine the class struggle that exists among blacks today. And it tries to be a dance movie as well. And for me, I thought it really odd that for a movie that sells itself as a dance movie that the dancing was really awful.
Let me explain: in dance scenes it’s really important that you be able to see what the dancers are doing if you’re to have any appreciation of their talent and skill. Look at any classic favorite musical of yours. I betcha you’ll see that in the dance scenes, you can see the entire body of the dancers. Especially their feet. In STOMP THE YARD, we rarely see the dancer’s feet and the camera is constantly moving and unnecessary tricks such as speeding up the action and insanely quick cutting is employed so that the dance scenes are mostly a blur of noise and flashes of arms and legs whipping around wildly. In a movie about dance I think you really ought to keep the camera still and let the dancers move. The director of STOMP THE YARD is a former music video director and it shows. He doesn’t film the dance sequences in STOMP THE YARD like dance sequences. He films them like videos.
So should you see STOMP THE YARD? It’s certainly not going to kill you if you do. For me it’s a pleasure to see a movie with black youth portrayed as going to college and settling their differences with dance instead of blowing each other brains out. And it’s nice to see a movie where black women are never once called ‘bitch’ and who have more ambition in life other than the constant care of their nails and hair and pursuing men.
But as a movie about black college life? Go Netflix Spike Lee’s “School Daze” instead. As a dance movie? Again, nah. Go Netflix “You Got Served” if you want to see a movie with some really marvelous crunkin’/hip-hop dancing. How about as a movie about a cocky street kid who goes to college and learns how to be a better person? While bringing his mad street skills to a traditional style? Again, no. Go Netflix “Drumline”. But what I recommend STOMP THE YARD for is the heart and sincerity of the story and the performances. And that’s worth a lot to me. Enjoy.