Among a vast selection of recent inspirational sports dramas, there are those that enthrall audiences with first-class scripts and heartfelt messages, and those that follow a conventional formula marked by predictability and repetition. Sad to say, Stomp the Yard falls into the latter category, and relies too much on impressive dance scenes instead of devoting greater care to plot and character development.
The movie first introduces us to DJ (Columbus Short), a troubled Los Angeles street dancer who, after the tragic death of his brother, moves in with his aunt and uncle in Atlanta. Determined to bring his life back on the right track, he enrolls in the renowned Truth University, where he quickly falls for the charming April (Meagan Good). The only barrier to her heart is her cocky boyfriend Grant (Darrin Henson), leader of the university’s unbeaten stepping team. Next thing we know, DJ joins Grant’s rival fraternity Theta Nu Theta aka. The Vipers, and vows to teach them his best moves and beat Grant at the upcoming National Stepping Championships.
Stomp the Yard faces the dilemma of simply repeating what we’ve now seen far too many times in movies such as Save the Last Dance or Honey. It centers on a struggling loner who manages to overcome his dark past and finds the necessary courage to face his fears and achieve his goals. Generally there is nothing wrong with such a story, but if the initial concept is sloppily executed and the plot ends lacking any originality, there’s not much left to capture our attention. It is extremely easy to figure out where this movie is heading the moment DJ first catches a glimpse of April and accepts the challenge to lead the Vipers to the nationals. The mix of formulaic dialogue and sporadic emotional outbreaks between the main characters only makes matters worse, and the only thing left for the viewers to relish is the fantastic dancing.
Stepping is still widely practiced in African-American fraternities and sororities at American universities, and it’s exceptionally thrilling to watch. Thus, it also accounts for one of the few positives of Stomp the Yard. Choreographed with an innovative style and passion by Dave Scott and captured with striking precision by cinematographer Scott Kevan, the many featured dance scenes radiate vibrating energy and culminate in a plainly spectacular showdown that will leave viewers spellbound. Plus, the sporadic use of slow motion during the competitions adds an extra boost to the extravagance of certain moves.
The acting in Stomp the Yard is noteworthy, and most actors are far better than the characters they are supplied with. Columbus Short delivers an affectionate performance, and fuels DJ with a lot of authentic pain and anger. Short also shares a believable chemistry with co-star Meagan Good, whose April is undoubtedly one of her best roles yet. The supporting cast also includes appearances by Ne-Yo as DJ’s eccentric roommate, and Chris Brown, who celebrates his onscreen debut as DJ’s brother Duron.
Frankly, if it weren’t for the varying dance gestures, Stomp the Yard would most likely be unwatchable. All this movie really lacks is a solid script, one that breaks loose from traditional sports dramas and manages to preserve the same subject matter but with a different way of storytelling.
I understand that the last thing one would want to do after watching an overlong, insipid movie is checking out the special features, but in the case of the Stomp the Yard DVD, this may indeed be a beneficial thing to do. If you are fascinated by the stepping and are eager to find out more about the tradition as a whole and how the filmmakers caught the moves on camera, the bonus material on the disc is an absolute must.
The most appealing extra on the disc is “Battle, Rivals, Brothers – The Story of Stomp the Yard,” an informative 17-minute documentary that primarily focuses on the art of step dancing. Director Sylvain White, producer Will Packer and choreographer Dave Scott explain how they did profound research about college stepping prior to the shooting of the movie. Apparently, they examined real college teams and attended real stepping competitions to find dancers who were able to adapt to a certain style and fit a certain college look. White also mentions the complexity of shooting the spectacular dance sequences, and reveals some additional, interesting secrets about the production of the movie.
The bonus material on the Stomp the Yard DVD also comprises an exciting filmmaker commentary with Sylvain White, editor David Checel and cinematographer Scott Kevan. Having both the editor and photographer on board is particularly interesting since they discuss the many technical aspects of the movie, such as the camerawork on set and the challenge of editing the dance scenes. White also focuses on the different locations, and offers a compelling insight into the assemblage of the film’s most important scenes. All in all, the commentary is enlightening and captivating in a way that it reveals an array of details about what it is that makes Stomp the Yard watchable: the stepping.
The special features section also includes a trailer gallery showcasing the latest releases from Sony Pictures, a short but hilarious gag reel, and three unexciting deleted/extended scenes that will most likely appeal to dance addicts only. Ultimately, when compared to the mediocre quality of the feature film, the bonus material does a way better job at grabbing your attention. Be sure to check it out if the movie fails to meet your expectations.