Applying familiar sports-movie tropes to an unlikely university marching band milieu, Charles Stone III’s Drumline works overtime equating school-band geekdom with swaggering, macho jockhood. While this approach doesn’t reveal much about the discipline and dedication that go into participating in such an outfit for real, it does make for an exhilarating serving of movie fluff.
Eschewing the irony and sniveling high jinks of most college comedies, Drumline follows Harlem high school graduate Devon (Nickelodeon’s Nick Cannon) through his freshman year at fictional Atlanta A&T. A snare-drum prodigy with an overdeveloped sense of self, Devon immediately clashes with his fellow musicians and the school’s band director (Orlando Jones). He nevertheless nabs a hot girlfriend, Laila (Zoe Saldana), and wows the crowds with his halftime-show stunts. After a seemingly unending cycle of ups and downs, including expulsion from the band and temporary rejection by Laila, Devon humbly absorbs the lesson Drumline is at pains to impart: that it’s often necessary to put aside individual needs in order to benefit the group. Perhaps an armed forces recruiting office is in his future.
Despite such preachy earnestness and some flat performances (both Jones and the sweetly grinning Cannon are fine), Drumline is perfectly amiable B-movie entertainment. Its appeal may ultimately rest on your tolerance for marching-band music, but Stone (who also directed this year’s Paid in Full) deftly accentuates that style’s muscular grace. He even makes the climactic battle of the bands downright sexy.