It being a new year and all, I’ve come to a very difficult decision. It’s time to turn over a new leaf; honestly, I’m tired of slamming bad films just for the sake of slamming bad films. It’s plebian hackery; bullshit Simon Cowell gimmickry — bad lounge singer … the sort of thing I might hear on a cruise ship … amateur karaoke hour. I get it, Simon, I get it — you have three metaphors, and you just interchange them, interminably, depending on the style of singer. Well, this critic isn’t doing it anymore, goddamnit. I’m going to appreciate the small wonders of otherwise shitty films. Highlight the positive, downplay the negative. We’re all in this thing together, after all. Pajiba, the studios, Hollywood. We’re just trying to make a buck, you know?
And that’s why I’d like to take a few paragraphs of our readers’ time and thank the good people over at Sony Pictures for giving us a fine flick like Stomp the Yard. I’m a hayseed Southern white boy and, normally, I wouldn’t expect to understand a film like this, a film about urban difficulties and a boy’s transition from inner-city L.A. to college life. But credit Sony Pictures and the writer of Stomp the Yard (Robert Adetuyi, who I unfairly maligned just last week for his Code Name: The Cleaner script) for providing the kind of hip-hop lingo a guy like me might understand, like “Been there, done that — went back twice more.” Now, see: That’s an oldie-with-a-new-twist that’s been churned through our collective pop lexicon long enough that even simple folk like myself can understand it, much like another fine line from the film: “Straight up, that dude is whack.” I have to admit, however, that I was mildly disappointed that two of my faves were left out: “You go, girl,” and “Snap!” (The latter of which is a comeback used to express disbelief and/or dismay, for those of you who aren’t hip to the Urban Dictionary.)
And you know what? I’ve seen The Wire (all four seasons, in fact), and I have to say that the way the writers of that show try to create drug dealers and gangbangers with actual personalities who also, somehow, inexplicably play on your sympathies — well, it’s just too much gray for me. So, I was pleased as a pig in shit that Stomp the Yard didn’t try to confuse me like that, instead providing clearly delineated characters so that I would know from the get-go who was good and who was bad. Latino men, for instance, were clearly bad, as evidenced by the angry scowls they displayed. Also, thanks for having the lead character — who transformed miraculously from a thug to a reliable, hard-working college kid — gradually change his wardrobe as he was transitioning, going from dark hoodies and dew rags (that’s what they’re called, right? do? doo?) to cotton sweaters and neatly trimmed hair. Without those cues, I’d have been as lost as a trailer without a park to call its own.
Finally, thanks again for the angry black-man stereotypes, which is something I clearly understand, having grown up seeing that kind of typecasting in television and movies for so many years (thanks Steven Bochco!). You know, fuck Denzel and Will Smith and Sidney Poitier, and, especially, Don Cheadle, for attempting to create well-rounded African-American characters with a complex set of thoughts and emotions. It’s just too far-fetched for a guy who likes to shop at Wal-Mart to comprehend.
The storyline, also, was really easy to follow; frankly, I’ve seen it so many times now that I could simply tune it out here and there, take a nap, call my wife, slip into the restroom, etc., and pick it up again with little problem. It goes something like this: An angry black man (Columbus Short, who has an impeccable orthodontist — thanks for the non-menacing smile!) loses his brother to gang warfare, because of all his angry braggadocio, and is shipped off to his hard-working, better-off uncle and aunt (hey! Just like the Fresh Prince), where he decides to attend Truth University. Compliments on the name: I totally knew it had to be a good place to go to school, so much better than Pissant Cocksucker University, which doesn’t sound like an accredited college.
The angry black man is, at first, reluctant about attending (evidenced by the ghoulish hood he keeps over his eyes and the backwards cap he wears). But then he meets a “fine-ass” young lady and decides to stick around, thinking that he can “go there, do that, and later go back again,” I guess. Turns out, however, that the girl is actually the daughter of the provost, and the provost would totally prefer that his daughter not date the angry black man on account of the totally better option, the president of the rival fraternity, who is of course headed for good things, like Wall Street. (Arrogant Asshole Rival is an easily identifiable character, too, thank God — you’ve seen him in Revenge of the Nerds, Van Wilder and just about every movie made the last 20 years — the good ones, at least). The provost also has a beef with the angry black man’s uncle, as he stole the provost’s girl during their own college days at Truth University. It’s the incredible amassing of coincidences that makes films like these such a joy to watch. I loves me some narrative symmetry.
Anyway, angry black man with the great teeth (ABGT) doesn’t want to join a fraternity at first, because he doesn’t want to lose his individuality. Thankfully, the other characters in the film beat that sensibility out of him, encouraging him to join on account of the “lifelong brotherhood” and, also, by trumping out photos of Martin Luther King Jr. and Michael Jordan (who were both supposedly members of the fraternity, which is strangely missing from their Wikipedia entries).
The fraternity, though, is mostly just about the “stepping competitions,” which might sound awfully fierce and intense, but are really just like marching band without the instruments or synchronized swimming without the water. AGBT doesn’t fit in with his fraternity at first (on account of the “angry”), but of course they eventually warm up to him (on account of the nice teeth). In fact, they even embrace his crazy street moves and ultimately incorporate them into the competition, which pits his frat, Theta Nu Theta, against that future Wall Street stockbroker’s frat. And that “fine-ass” young girl is sort of the prize of the competition. That and pride, I think. Or whatever. I didn’t try to read too much into it. And fortunately, the director (Sylvian White, who directed the totally awesome straight-to-DVD release, I”ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer) didn’t try to force me to think about the deeper motives or socio-economic issues that surely plagued ABGT during his time at Truth University. In the end, White just focused on the big kiss and the celebrating and all, which is how I like it.
Finally, my favorite thing about Stomp the Yard was its nearly two-hour running time. I’m an American, goddamnit. And as any red-blooded patriot knows, we’ll take quantity over quality any day of the week, which is why fast-food restaurants and Chili’s are ideal eating establishments. It’s no damn good for the waistline, it doesn’t taste particularly good, but there’s a whole hell of a lot of it. Likewise, Stomp the Yard doesn’t do much for the brain cells and it’s not particularly entertaining, but it is long. So, I certainly felt like I got my money’s worth.
Bullshit hyperbole aside, as bad as Stomp the Yard was, it does have two things going for it, and I’d be remiss in not mentioning them. First, the score, which will be familiar to anyone who has seen Friday Night Lights (the film or the television show), is amazing, even if it was overused. It is a weird mixture of haunting, rousing, and poignant — sadly, the film couldn’t live up to the elegiac music. Second, as a showcase for the dance moves, Stomp the Yard actually does work — the choreography, and even the shaky camera-work, is outright incredible. At times, I’d call it hip-hop poetry — there isn’t enough of it in the film, for sure, but what there is of it just … well, it blew me away, despite the vacuous, formulaic storyline that bookended the step competitions. Though the analogy above — comparing stepping to glorified marching band — is apt, it can be awfully fun to watch a good marching band perform. Take Drumline, for instance, which suffered from many of the problems that plague Stomp the Yard — in both cases, despite the movies’ flaws, the performances are remarkable. So anyone who is simply attending Stomp the Yard for the eye-popping choreography could probably do worse. It’s a shame, however, that the script and acting performances don’t do justice to the step performances.
Author’s Note: No ‘bucks’ were earned in the writing of this review.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives with his wife in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.
Stomp the Yard / Dustin Rowles
Film | January 18, 2007 | Comments ()