I’m not one to needlessly stomp (heh) on bad movies, especially when they’re just harmless, by the numbers entertainment. In fact, when they’re made with a minimum of enthusiasm, wit and sincerity, I can go along with many of these unoriginal Hollywood flicks. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that if “Stomp the Yard” was just another dumb little dance picture, with its endless clichés from not only the competitive dance genre but also from the sports movie, romantic comedy and college fraternity drama playbooks, I’d still think that it’s bad, but that’d be that.
After all, within this uninventive story, there are small moments that work well enough, generally thanks to the cast. In the lead, Colombus Short displays not only impressive moves on the, um, stomping yard (I’m trying to work in the title here), but also natural charisma and even unexpected dramatic chops. To be honest, at first I was dismissing him as a random Fiddy Cent-type, but by the end, he was actually sort of reminding me of the South African dude who played “Tsotsi”. Not too shabby, eh? Of course, Short’s character DJ is hardly as complex and fascinating as was Tsotsi. He’s just your good old bad boy who gets into trouble (during an underground L.A. dance-off that turns ugly and ends up with DJ’s brother being shot by the dude with the teardrop tattoo they just “served” – NOTE TO ASPIRING STEPPERS: you’re probably better off not “serving” dudes with teardrop tattoos), is sent off to a new environment (in Atlanta with his uncle, who puts him on a work-study program at Truth University) and, despite initial reluctance, eventually becomes a better person. Plus, amusingly, he’s bare-chested more often than Patrick Swayze in Road House! I can just picture Short going up to the director every other day, all like, “Don’t you think I should take off my shirt for this scene?”
As his romantic interest, Meagan Good is charming enough but sidetracked by the film’s endless fetishizing of her T&A. The character itself is pretty sexist, she’s the stereotypical babe who’s going out with the most popular kid in school, but then she meets DJ and is almost immediately cheating on her boyfriend with him. Great role model, Rosa Parks would be proud (more on that later). Anyway, so this creates big tension between said popular kid and DJ, who are in rival fraternities who settle things the hard way: by busting a move!
Which brings us to the reason why the movie was made and why, supposedly, folks will go see it: the stepping, stomping, breaking, clowning, crunking, whatchamacallit. I find it ironic that most people say they hate musicals, but then they go see movies like this where they might not burst into song, but they dance more often than in a Gene Kelly flick! From what I could tell the performers are all highly skilled… But there’s the rub, you can barely tell! Director Sylvain White is one of the worst offenders when it comes to what my man Vern calls “AVID farts”, i.e. pointless editing tricks that overwhelm whatever is happening on screen. You know, when every shot is either slowed down or sped up (or both, for chrissakes), then there’s all those epileptic flashes, post-Matrix visual gimmicks, etc. The result is that it’s impossible to fully appreciate what the dancers are doing and the film feels like an exhausting two-hour hip hop video.
But even that is not so bad. If Tony Scott can make incoherently frenetic action flicks, I guess Sylvain White can do the same for his little dance movie. Where I get angry is when he and screenwriter Robert Adetuyi get the crazy idea in their head that they’re Spike Lee or something. They’re not content with making a blatantly commercial, utterly superficial but mildly enjoyable picture. Noooo, they have to pretend that This Is Important, that all the lingering shots of Meagan Good’s butt, macho bullshit and endless step lines Mean Something. I’m not making this up, they actually invoke the Civil Rights movement and make a big deal of how Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had ties with these black Greek letter fraternities and sororities. Seriously, the movie ends with a picture of the step team next to one of Dr. King then quotes him (“Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”), as if this were frickin’ Do the Right Thing. I don’t know, but I somehow doubt that the Nobel Peace Prize winner would have approved of loudmouthed hip hop swagger and battles.
Which brings up something else: why does everything (cheerleading, drumlines, dancing) have to be a battle? You can’t just excel at something, you have to crush and humiliate the competition. At least with sports there’s the notion, in theory, of respecting the other players – “good sportsmanship”, you know? Whereas in a movie like “Stomp the Yard”, it’s always about belittling the others, bringing them down so you can go up and have the bragging rights to say “YOU GOT FUCKED IN THE ASS!!!” Meh, whatcha gonna do, etc.
“Your motivation? Never mind, Meagan, just work that bod!
And yes, Colombus, you can take off your shirt. Action!”