Stomp the Yard

Stomp the Yard (2007)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Columbus Short, Meagan Good, Ne-Yo
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurette, Extended/Deleted Scenes, Gag Reel

Could it be, a "West Side Story" for the 2000s? Alas, no. There is forbidden romance, to be sure, and we do get some street-smart rivalries. And there is some serious dancing. But the teen-oriented "Stomp the Yard" is ultimately nothing more than a standard underdog story, delivering on the expectations of the genre without really adding anything to it. This is the kind of movie that will probably appeal to a niche audience, satisfy their expectations, and then vanish from their memories the next time another such film comes along. In the case of this film, it is especially disappointing because there is so much here that could have pushed it a little further had the director taken greater advantage of it.

Following the death of his brother in a street brawl, hotheaded street dancer DJ (Columbus Short) is sent from the streets of Los Angeles to the peaceful neighborhood of his aunt and uncle in Atlanta, Georgia. There, he enrolls in Truth University, a prestigious college with a predominantly black student body. Out of place among much wealthier students, DJ works as a campus gardener for his uncle to gain responsibility. Having just barely set foot on campus, his eyes are immediately drawn to a young beauty named April (Meagan Good). Unfortunately, she is already taken by Grant (Darrin Henson), a senior member of one of the top fraternities on campus. As luck would have it, this fraternity is in a long-standing rivalry with another fraternity over their step-dancing teams. With African roots and a contemporary blend of cheerleading and arm movements, step dancing is an integral part of the university's image, culminating in annual participation in the National Step Championship.

In spite of April's relationship with Grant, DJ pursues her relentlessly, insinuating himself into her social life any way he can. To impress her and outshine Grant, DJ crashes the stage of a popular club to show off his dancing skills. Amazed by his moves, both fraternities court him to increase their chances of winning at the Championship. At first indifferent, DJ eventually goes with Grant's rivals, the lesser of the two teams. His relationship with April improves as he displays his sensitivity and true affection for her, as opposed to the arrogance of her current boyfriend. On the dance floor, however, he is still hampered by the cocky selfishness and individuality that led to trouble back in Los Angeles. Adding to his problems, April is the daughter of the student dean at Truth, who has a bitter past with DJ's uncle, bringing out hidden jealousies and prejudices as the Championship comes ever closer.

As an underdog story, "Stomp the Yard" meets expectations. To put it another way, it is extremely clichéd. As I watched the movie, I always knew exactly where it was going to go and how it would come out. What bothers me is not so much that this movie is by-the-numbers, but that we can actually see the numbers. At no point does any event really seem to come about as a natural progression. Instead, it seems to happen simply because the genre dictates it. Several plot points are introduced and then never delivered on. For example, during one of DJ's rehearsals, a rival fraternity brother captures his routine on camera and takes it back to his team. This naturally leads us to expect some kind of copycat scheme or accusation of cheating. But it never happens. There is no mention of this scene ever again. It literally could have been dropped from the movie altogether, and it would have made absolutely no difference.

I did enjoy the dance numbers, though even they are spoiled by attention-grabbing cinematography. The opening dance sequence was filmed with a reduced shutter, which increases the clarity of the action but gives it a highly stylized and animated appearance. It almost appears as though the dance moves were digitally manipulated or sped up. Later dance scenes are comprised of MTV-style cuts, slow-motion shots, and fast camera movement that deprives us of seeing the dancing in its true glory. This is a shame, because the dancing is spectacular. Unfortunately, I was consistently more aware of the way the scene was shot than of what was going on.

Ironically, what I find most frustrating about this movie is that the acting is uniformly excellent. Columbus Short, a former backup dancer, gives an earnest and heartfelt portrayal as DJ. As April, Meagan Good is engaging and sympathetic, making the best of her stereotypical role. The reason I am frustrated is because this cast deserves so much better than what this film offers them. The actors performed all of their own dancing, effectively proving that there was a lot more talent in front of the camera than behind it. The threadbare storyline simply fails to generate the kind of enthusiasm for its subject that the performances emanate, and the film as a whole lacks the energy of its dance numbers.

My "West Side Story" comment is not entirely out of place, as both that film and this one feature rivals one-upping each other through dance moves. Unlike "West Side Story"—and traditional musicals in general—in which dancing is used to tell a story and convey the characters' thoughts and feelings, here it is used purely as spectacle amidst a rather uninteresting plot. Step dancing, in and of itself, is a fascinating underground phenomenon that has received increasing exposure over the last few years, and there must be some great stories behind the men and women who dedicate themselves to it. The makers of "Stomp the Yard," however, have passed over the opportunity to really explore these performers and instead use the dance as a selling point to attract audiences to a movie they have seen time and time again. Although the actors in this movie obviously put their all into the dance scenes, the final product hardly seems worth their effort.

The DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment contains a flawless transfer, mastered in high definition and presenting the film in a 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Black levels are deep and rich. The transfer boasts excellent contrast and fine detail. Colors pop off the screen throughout. The image is generally dark, but this seems to be the way it was intended to be, and it does not detract from the action onscreen.

The musical scenes are wonderfully enhanced by the Dolby Digital 5.1 track. The surround is utilized well in these scenes to send the music and crowd cheering around the channels to produce a dizzying and immersive experience. Dialogue is clear and never overpowered by the more pronounced sounds. A French surround track is also available, as well as English and French subtitles.

Kicking off the special features is an audio commentary track with director Sylvain White, cinematographer Scott Kevan, and editor David Checel. Their discussion is straightforward and mostly technical, providing lots of information about the techniques used to film the dance scenes. They also discuss the actors and the location shooting. Pretty decent stuff.

An 18-minute featurette, "Battles, Rivals, Brothers," contains interviews with the director and several cast and crew members about the making of the film. The feature is devoted largely to discussions of the dance scenes. Sylvain White comes across as a very intelligent man, and he shows a great interest in and knowledge of step dancing. This makes it all the more perplexing as to why he couldn't have put more of that knowledge and background into the actual movie. I would say that I found more of interest in this featurette than I did in the entire film. At least I learned a little something here.

Following this is a pair of extended scenes that offer more of the amazing dancing. We then get a deleted scene that is absolutely useless. A completely unfunny gag reel turns up next, followed by a gallery of DVD previews.

While the dancing in "Stomp the Yard" is incredible, it does not a compelling movie make. Had the filmmakers invested a little more time in crafting a story around this interesting artform rather than just using it to liven up a weak story, this could have been a much more enjoyable work. Instead, it is just a waste of good actors and great dancers. Sylvain White had some real potential in his hands, but he opted to play it safe and brush only the surface of the dance's core power.