"Stomp the Yard" is a college-set soap opera under the guise of a dance movie, and it's not very good at being either. Directed by Sylvain White (2006's direct-to-video "I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer") with a love for herky-jerky camera movements, the film is too transparent and unintentionally silly to accept all of its faux-sincere message-making. And for screenwriter Robert Adetuyi (2007's "Code Name: The Cleaner
"), he has sprung from the gate this year with two unfortunate movies in two consecutive weeksand it's only the beginning of January. "Stomp the Yard" exists solely because of other similar pictures that have come before it, cobbling together as many clichés as can possibly fit in 115 minutes. The great irony is that the film itself moralizes about the value of self-expression, but doesn't even bother to follow its own example.
Having recently completed serving time for his involvement in a fight that led to the tragic death of his brother, Los Angeles native DJ (Columbus Short) arrives in Atlanta, Georgia, with the promise to his mom of making a go as a college student. Enrolled in the highly-lauded Truth University, DJ immediately begins to pursue the beautiful April (Meagan Good) after seeing her angelically sip in slow-motion from a water fountain. In the meantime, he catches the eyes of two rival fraternities specializing in urban step dancingone that is genuinely interested in what he can bring to the group, and the other a disingenuous lot led by Grant (Darrin Henson), April's shallow and disrespectful boyfriend. As DJ wins the heart of April and struggles to overcome the guilt he feels for the loss of his brother, the two fraternities prepare to go head-to-head in a national step championship.
"Stomp the Yard" makes sure to cover all the generic bases as it edges toward the climactic dance-off. There's the troubled protagonist with a dark past and an underlying heart of gold. There's the girl he has eyes for whose boyfriend is, of course, the head of the other fraternity. The father of the same girl in question is, wouldn't you know it, the head of the university, and he is none too thrilled over his daughter dating someone of such modest means. The protagonist's caring aunt (Valerie Pettiford) also has secret ties to this conflictthis is where the "Days of Ours Lives"-style plotting really goes into effectand she just may be able to help him out of a pickle when he most needs it. There's the discovery that the protagonist has a criminal record, and the danger that he will be kicked out of school and not be able to compete in the championships. There's the subplot where the rivals videotape the protagonist's dance moves and intend to pass them off as their own. Heck, there's even a scene where the new lovebirds ride off on a lawnmowera direct steal from 1987's teen romance "Can't Buy Me Love."
All of these stale, frequently over-the-top story developments swirl around the unique form of step dancing that the title describes. In the hands of director Sylvain White, it is never explored what makes this kind of stepping a challenging sport, as all it appears to entail is getting up in the competitors' faces and dissing them while making funny faces and shaking about like a seizure victim. As if the outcome wasn't already a foregone conclusion, White draws the climax out to superfluous lengths, pulling the old "it's-a-tie" routine so that the teams can face off one more time. Despite never being shown planning it out, each dance group's performance comes miraculously equipped with choreography and pyrotechnics that would make a Broadway producer jealous.
"Stomp the Yard" is humorous for all the wrong reasons, but isn't without a few modest merits. One supposes it will please its targeted teen demographic, especially those who have never see the films it apes, and there is somewhat of a sick enjoyment in seeing what moldy conventions it will rustle up next. The soundtrack of hip-hop and R&B tracks is eclectic and fun. Columbus Short (2006's "Accepted
") and Meagan Good (2005's "Roll Bounce
"), as DJ and April, are amicable leads and share a gently effective chemistry. Nevertheless, for every nice moment there is an ill-conceived one sure to follow.
As for the sappy ending, it actually has the delusional gall to suggest that stepping is as historically significant to African Americans as the Civil Rights Movement. Adding insult to injury, a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote is tacked on concerning the importance of education, and yet DJ and April are only seen in a classroom once and never speak about what they hope to do with their futures. For this, "Stomp the Yard" is stomach-churningly self-important when it should have simply been treated as what it really is: a frothy time-waster for teens who have nothing better to do on a Friday night.