by Tim Gordon
Almost twenty years ago, Spike Lee introduced mainstream America to African-American life at a fictional historically black college. His film, School Daze, showed fraternities and sororities interacting, coupled with an intelligent political message.
Fast-forward to the present and Lee’s vision of black college life gets a fresh makeover in the new film, Stomp the Yard. The film opens like the sequel to You Got Served with two groups of dancers battling each other in a cramped warehouse. Wonderfully choreographed movements and slow motion cuts highlight the amazing dance routines. The aftermath turns violent and DJ’s (Columbus Short) brother and dance partner Duron (Chris Brown) is mortally wounded.
Still grieving and confused, DJ suddenly leaves Los Angeles to live with his aunt and uncle in Atlanta. DJ enrolls in Truth University and before he can register for his classes he takes an instant liking to fellow student, April (Meagan Good). During one of his forays to get her attention, he interrupts one of the fraternities and instantly makes an enemy of the frat’s best stepper Grant (Darrin Henson) who just so happens to be . . . April’s boyfriend.
Taking matters into his own hand, DJ shows up Grant at a local club and not only draws the attention of April, but the two competing fraternities who both try to recruit the “Lebron James of dance” in hopes of winning the annual steppin’ championship.
In an earlier Lee film, Mo’ Better Blues, one issue that I had with the screenplay was that Denzel’s character was too nice in the first act. When he receives his comeuppance in the film’s final act it didn’t resonate because it was not properly set up in the film’s beginning. The exact same thing happens in Stomp the Yard. You never get a sense that DJ is a bad kid, just one in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The film’s final act is predictable and contains a couple of subplots that never feel like they fit in the film but only serve to get you to the film’s finale. What makes the film succeed is its amazing dance sequences and sheer physicality. The final result feels like the filmmakers combined elements of School Daze, You Got Served and Drumline with a dash of Breakin’.
Ultimately what saves and redeems DJ is the love from a good woman, a second chance at life and just one stage. The only thing missing was DJ proudly proclaiming to Grant, “you just got served!”