DRUMLINE Boyz in the band.

dir. Stone III

Opens Fri Dec 13

Various Theaters

Drumline, the second feature by Charles Stone III (who got his start behind the taken-too-far Budweiser "Whassup?!" TV spots), is a classic protagonist-as-flawed-hero tale set in a familiar but quirkily esoteric universe; in the vein of, say, Rocky or Showgirls. Nick Cannon is Devon Miles, a prodigy on the snare drum with just enough hiphop swagger behind that Nickelodeon-bred smile to lend him the bad boy tag. After graduating high school, Devon is recruited by the fictional black college Atlanta A&T to play in its marching band, which follows the style of real black schools like Florida A&M and the University of Tallahassee--who, in the '50s, transformed military precision into a high-energy, movement-oriented style that one might describe as "funky," and which has since become as much of a spectacle as the football game itself.

Rarely do freshmen make the drumline, but thanks to his phat chops, my man makes the cut. Of course we all know that you can take the boy out of the hood, but you can't take the hood out of the boy. What this film presupposes is, maybe you can? Does this ruff-n-tumble protagonist have heart enough to overcome the obstacles and live up to his potential? Will he and the band take top honors at the BET Big Southern Classic, or will he let his dreams and the girl slide through his fingers? I probably needn't tell you that Drumline is so predictable that it's over before you even walk into the theater, but if for some reason you make it that far, I won't say that it's unmatchable. Fox tends to release the classier of such black films--i.e., it isn't How High-type exploitation--and the film's heart is in the right place, despite the fact that it's a clichéd wreck a lot of the time.

But what really trips it up most is that it's essentially trying to be a hiphop film set in a marching band world. Urban culture permeates the entirety of the film, right up to the final drum-off, which borrows heavily from rhyme-battle culture with its postures and taunts. It's a laughable scene, because, yeah, it's cool that these dudes can drum and dance and all that, but the fact of the matter is, you just can't flex and pull it off when you're WEARING A FUCKING MARCHING BAND UNIFORM.