2½ stars (out of four)
In film, nothing signifies snobbery faster than sticking a character with a Greek fraternity or sorority pin. "Stomp the Yard" will have none of it. The movie reveres the storied African-American fraternity/sorority tradition, and it takes great pains to mention everyone from Martin Luther King Jr. to Esther "Good Times" Rolle as part of this legacy.
There's another tradition at play in "Stomp the Yard": the college musical. Along with Spike Lee's "School Daze," the film bears more than a passing resemblance to the 1947 version of "Good News." Sixty years ago June Allyson offered French lessons to Peter Lawford, the least likely football hero in the annals of sport. "Stomp the Yard" finds Meagan Good tutoring the street-dancing hero in the subject of history, though those lips/those eyes keep getting in the way.
An L.A.-to-Atlanta transplant with a secret, DJ (Columbus Short) first spies April (Good) in I'm-in-love-slow-mo at a drinking fountain during freshman registration. The fictional Truth University is ruled by the highly competitive world of stepping, wherein movement and rhythm drills combine gumboot-style African dance vocabulary with contemporary flourishes. Hip-hop ace DJ doesn't like the step nonsense. He's more "ghetto," and has a dead brother to prove it. (Early on he's killed in an L.A. railyard rumble with rival hip-hop dancers.)
The lure of the fraternity universe proves too much, and DJ joins up with Theta Nu Theta. Their chief step competition is Mu Gamma Xi, whose leader (Darrin Henson) is also DJ's rival in love."Are we doing a step show or are we doing a rap video?" wonders one of DJ's conservative Greek brothers, thrown by the new guy's moves. Like the "Breakin'." films of the 1980s and the deathless lambada movies, "Stomp the Yard" is determined to mainstream its dance sub genre. The script by Robert Adetuyi was based on a script by Gregory Anderson, according to the film's unusual credits. This explains why "Stomp the Yard" contains 200 percent of your daily requirement of cliche.
In the dance scenes director Sylvain White keeps cutting everybody off at the waist, and editor David Checel is so into speed and dazzle the sequences keep getting cut into tiny little bits. Yet the visual noise is offset by the people on screen. Short and Good are long on charm, and DJ's uncle and aunt are played by Harry J. Lennix (always a pleasure) and Valarie Pettiford (a Fosse dance veteran herself).
The results are corny beyond measure. Yet there's something sweet about them, in part because there's something sweet about hearing the line "Congratulations! Why didn't you tell me you pledged?" outside the realm of comedy.
'Stomp the Yard'
Directed by Sylvain White; screenplay by Robert Adetuyi; cinematography by Scott Kevan; edited by David Checel; choreography by Dave Scott; production design by Jonathan A. Carlson; music by Sam Retzer and Tim Boland; produced by Will Packer. A Screen Gems release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:21. MPAA rating: PG-13 (for a scene of violence, some sexual material and language).
DJ - Columbus Short
April - Meagan Good
Rich - Ne-Yo
Grant - Darrin Henson
Sylvester - Brian White
Zeke - Laz Alonso
Aunt Jackie - Valarie Pettiford
Uncle Nate - Harry J. Lennix