When most people think of band, they think of geeky high school kids. Little do they know that in some colleges, competitive band is a highly popular event, and in the case of Drumline, it eclipses the football teams during the games. And from the looks of it, it can be a whole lotta fun. Drumline is the kind of movie that takes something that not many people know about, sticks it into a familiar formula, and does it well enough to make the movie enjoyable. Movies like this usually center on some sort of competition, where there is an underdog. Think Center Stage. Or any other movie where somebody is trying to follow his/her dream against all conceivable odds. The person here is Devon Miles (Nick Cannon, Men in Black II, Whatever It Takes), an inner city kid with a drum scholarship to Atlanta A&T University where he will play in the band. Devon believes that everything is set for him, and that he is some sort of golden child. He is arrogant, but extremely talented.

When he arrives, he learns that not all is as it seems. He needs to audition in order to play on the band, regardless of his scholarship. Sean (Leonard Roberts, Scam, He Got Game) is the student in charge of the drum section, and he takes an instant dislike to Devon. Sean follows Dr. Aaron Lee (Orlando Jones, The Time Machine, Evolution), who believes that the classics are best, and that education is the most important element. He sets strict rules, and trains his band like a military to ensure precision and excellence. True, but his strategy is not winning any awards at the huge competitions. Devon plays from the heart. He instantly rebels against Sean and Lee because he feels what he's doing is best for the band. Nevertheless, he quickly rises through the ranks, annoying Sean but delighting everybody else. He then brings his own brand of showmanship to a game, which infuriates Lee but wins accolades from the crowd.

Of course, something has to happen in Shawn Schepps (Lip Service, The Closet) and Tina Gordon Chism's screenplay to seriously mess things up. It turns out that Devon, as talented as he is, cannot read music. This is a cardinal sin for Dr. Lee, who promptly kicks him off the team. The conflict now centers on what A&T will do losing one of their star drummers, and what Devon will do. A&T's rival comes calling, and Devon needs to decide what is right for him. It's all very standard stuff, but what director Charles Stone III (Paid in Full, True) does is manage to capture the energy and excitement of everything, which manages to offset the pedestrian script and simplistic acting. Cannon does have some charisma, but his character is so flat and uninteresting that he's nothing more than a cardboard cut-out. Equally dull is Laila (Zoe Saldana, Crossroads, Get Over It), as the required love interest. Most interesting is Jones, in his first completely dramatic role. It is a nice change of pace for Jones, who proves that he can do things besides act dumb, and a potential breakthrough for more substantial work for him.

Still, it all boils down to energy. Drumline's enjoyablity comes from Stone's ability of translating the enthusiasm of the band and the rush of excitement from the screen to the viewer. When Devon is drumming, his whole heart pours forth into his performance, yet it looks like he is having fun. The movie ends with a showdown (gee, guess who wins) between A&T and their archrivals, and it is a huge spectacle. Bands march across the field in precise formation, all the while playing complicated material on their instruments. The filming of these competitions is not the greatest (there are too many close-ups and too much cutting between scenes), but the gist of the matter comes through.

Haro Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 58 minutes, Rated PG-13 for innuendo and language.

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