The dancing is more dynamic than the plotting in "Stomp the Yard," an energetic if formulaic underdog tale about warring black fraternities specializing in an intensely competitive style of step dancing. "Stomp" should get its B.O. groove on in urban markets, if earlier dance-themed hits are any indication.
The dancing is more dynamic than the plotting in “Stomp the Yard,” an energetic if formulaic underdog tale about warring black fraternities specializing in an intensely competitive style of step dancing. Enjoyable youth-skewing fare executes its predictable moves with plenty of visual-aural panache, only to get tripped up by some decidedly un-hip twists in the third act. Still, “Stomp” should get its B.O. groove on in urban markets, if earlier dance-themed hits like “Step Up” and “You Got Served” (also from Screen Gems) are any indication.Furiously hyperkinetic prologue shows cocky Los Angeles native DJ (Columbus Short) and his posse winning a bout of competitive street dancing with their daring acrobatics and insanely fast rhythms. After the thunderous backbeats have subsided, however, the night takes a tragic turn when a gang of rival dancers jumps DJ and guns down his brother (Chris Brown). Arrested for his role in the violent clash, DJ avoids juvenile hall by getting shipped off to Atlanta, where his tough-love uncle (Harry Lennix) enrolls him at Truth U., a historic, predominantly African-American institution. The troubled freshman immediately gets off on the wrong foot with popular upperclassman Grant (Darrin Henson) — a member of Truth’s dominant fraternity, Mu Gamma Xi — by flirting with his girlfriend, April (Meagan Good). Soon DJ’s show-offy attitude and unmistakable prowess on the dance floor draw the attention of the other frat on campus, Theta Nu Theta, which has been overshadowed by Mu Gamma at the national stepping championship for the past seven years. From there, the story’s trajectory could hardly be more predictable — DJ must get schooled, get hazed and, of course, get the girl and the trophy, while dealing with his repressed grief and learning the meaning of teamwork. (Call it “Good Will Stomping.”) Learning being a two-way street, however, Theta Nu also benefits from DJ’s “street” background, incorporating his cool ghetto stylings into their traditional dance routines. Pic continually contrasts tough, urban DJ with his invariably smug and wealthy adversaries — and to that end, Robert Adetuyi’s screenplay goes out of its way to cast preppy Grant and even April’s father, the school provost (Allan Louis), as two-dimensional villains. Script’s excessive dramatic convolutions — all rigged to make DJ look as vulnerable and put-upon as possible — prove especially groan-worthy as the climactic dance competition approaches. Fortunately, Short’s moody, taciturn DJ is easy enough to root for on his own, while Brian White also shows sparks of charisma in the slender role of an older Theta Nu brother. Good is, well, good as usual, even if she is playing just another coveted trophy, one whose every sultry movement — whether bending over a water fountain or jogging in hot-pink track gear — is ogled by the camera in hilarious slow-mo. Though some presumably important details of DJ’s college life are either relegated to montage or left out altogether (at no point does the camera venture near a lecture hall), helmer Sylvain White’s background in commercials and musicvideos serves him ably enough in the invigorating dance sequences. Lenser Scott Kevan wisely dispenses with the irritatingly sped-up camerawork used in the opening sequence and instead shoots the dancers’ impressive moves in real time, at times flooding the screen with wildly oversaturated colors. Editing, for the most part, works in conjunction with the bass-heavy hip-hop soundtrack, but the cutting is often still too frenetic, proving unnecessarily competitive with Dave Scott’s athletic and nimble choreography.