Unoriginal script, characters doom 'Stomp'

Published: Friday, January 12, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 11, 2007 at 11:53 p.m.


''Stomp the Yard''

Grade: C- Starring Columbus Short, Meagan Good. Directed by Sylvain White. Rated: PG-13 for a scene of violence, some sexual material and language. 1 hour, 54 minutes.
The verdict: The stepping skills of star Short can't cover for unoriginal script and characters.

The most entertaining moments in the melodramatic ''Stomp the Yard'' come when star Columbus Short, as 19-year-old street dancer DJ, shows out with his best hip-hop-meets-stepping moves. A veteran of the long-running theatrical show ''Stomp,'' Short has also worked as a choreographer and television actor. But his by turns soulful and strutting performance isn't enough to elevate the warmed-over script and tired characters in a movie that runs way too long.
The shot-in-Atlanta production features many Atlanta University Center locations, including scenes at Morris Brown, Spelman, Morehouse and Clark Atlanta. Co-starring sultry Meagan Good, as April, DJ's forbidden love interest, and featuring music stars Ne-Yo and Chris Brown, it's clearly aimed at urban audiences.
The story revolves around ''stepping''- a sort of stylized hybrid of dancing and military drilling that's become an important part of black fraternity life, and a rite of passage for many pledges. Built on a collection of rhythms beat out with booted feet, it also incorporates rapid hand movements, boasting chants and exaggerated, often comic facial expressions.
Director Sylvain White displays his music video background in the dizzying opening sequence, where DJ, his younger brother and their posse engage in a gritty dance battle at a Los Angeles underground club. And the cast of garish ghetto gangsters, hoochies, and a midget MC seem straight out of some inner city side show.
After a fatal shooting, DJ gets a bum rap, and the action shifts to Atlanta, where he gets sent to be cared for by his kindly aunt (Valarie Pettiford) and stern uncle (Harry J. Lennix). But in a familiar plot device, reminiscent of ''Rebel Without a Cause,'' moving to gentler, middle class surroundings doesn't fix any of alienated DJ's problems. In fact, attending swanky (fictional) Truth University, he quickly becomes embroiled in some nasty campus controversies.
After checking out his skills at an Atlanta club, national step champs (fictional) Mu Gamma Xi fraternity tries to recruit DJ for its team. But after resisting, he joins rival (fictional) Theta Nu Theta and brings some new flow to its old-school routines. And causing more trouble, he goes after co-ed April, girlfriend of slick Mu Gamma Xi captain Grant (Darrin Henson) and daughter of the snobbish university provost (Allan Louis).
Of course, as DJ is getting hazed and remade in the image of a better man, there's a big, bass-heavy soundtrack - with Ne-Yo (''Sign Me Up'') and Chris Brown (''Poppin'''), among others - while Dave Scott's tough and nimble choreography provides a much needed energetic counterpoint to the often dragging and convoluted narrative.
And as expected, there's a final contest that resolves a whole big mess of conflicts. But before that, ''Stomp the Yard'' flirts with several silly soap opera subplots, while twisting its way around to a cursory touch of social consciousness, with a reminder that the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks were proud fraternity and sorority members.

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