“I’m here to hear the drumming, man,” one teenager announced to the packed audience for Drumline. I’m sure he left the theater satisfied. If there were an Oscar for rousing, heart-pounding, soul-kicking, we-are-one drumming, Drumline would win it, sticks down.
It doesn’t really matter that the script is absolutely awful and the lead character is so annoying that you want to punch him every moment he’s onscreen doing anything other than drumming. You have to forgive such demerits, because this movie has done one thing that no other film has, and it’s done it extraordinarily well — dramatized college marching bands, focusing on the trials of their drum-line members. Drumline beats its path to glory on the rising popularity of marching bands in high schools and colleges nationwide, particularly here in Western North Carolina. Watching several fantastic bands perform, and being able to see them bigger-than-life on the screen, is positively intoxicating.
The story’s moronic hero is Devon (Nick Cannon, (TV’s The Nick Cannon Show ), a skinny, askew-lipped know-it-all from Harlem. His amazing ability on the drums, as well as his eagerness to tell lies, has wrangled Devon a full scholarship to a legendary Southern university. But instead of being appreciative that that he’s getting a college education for free, Devon immediately sets out to strut his drumming stuff and show everybody else how stupid they are. In particular, he wants to irritate the uptight band director, Dr. Lee, played by Orlando Jones (Double Take). Professor Lee is dedicated to instilling in his students a pride in musicianship instead of showmanship — a lost cause, it seems, in the fiercely competitive world of college marching bands. Meanwhile, despite Devon’s repulsive come-on lines, the beautiful rich belle on the shake-your-booty dance team (Zoe Saldana, Crossroads) falls for him. (There’s no figuring the taste of some young women when they’re away from their parents for the first time!)
Devon’s ego deafens him to the whole purpose of marching bands: the teamwork principle of “one band, one sound.” But I’m glad to say that despite Devon’s attempts to prove that narcissism will conquer all, the teamwork principle does reign supreme in the end — in the big battle of the drum lines in the movie’s thrilling climax.
One of the most fascinating parts of the film is its portrayal of marching-band boot camp, which is apparently not all that different from the military version, with physical and mental stamina being requirements for moving to the front line. Through rain, heat, sleet and the inability to open a textbook the entire school year, the band members train just as intensely on their music and their marching moves as — we must assume, for there is nary a quarterback in sight in the whole movie — football players train for the game.
Charles Stone III, in his directorial debut, captures the incredible group dynamism of marching bands, shooting them from high angles doing their intricate moves on the football field, and coming in close to show the intensity of the musicians as they interact with one another.
If you can tune out the story line, Drumlineis an entertaining movie for all ages, enjoyable to watch — and exhilarating to listen to.