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Stepping tramples story in ‘Stomp the Yard’

Viewers will want more stepping scenes and less plot from this film. By Christy Lemire
/ Source: The Associated Press

The rhythmic step dancing is infectious in the otherwise formulaic underdog flick “Stomp the Yard” — so much so, you’ll want to see more of it and less of a plot.

It’s good enough to make you wish that director Sylvain White had taken a documentary approach to the material, something along the lines of David LaChapelle’s 2005 film “Rize,” about the rigorous, gravity-defying street dance styles of krumping and clowning.

Instead, White’s movie focuses on young, surly DJ (Columbus Short), who moves to Atlanta from Los Angeles after his younger brother (R&B singer Chris Brown) is fatally shot in a fight.

There he attends the fictional, historically black Truth University, where the fraternities and their step competitions dominate the social scene. DJ’s raw moves cause the school’s top two houses to compete over him, and although he initially balks (“I don’t step, man, I battle”), he eventually gives in, is broken down and built back up as a better man.

Short’s performance is surprisingly free of melodrama, and that’s really him doing all his own dancing: He began his professional career with the Broadway tour of Savion Glover’s show “Stomp,” and he makes it look easy. But the script itself (credited to Robert Adetuyi but based on a screenplay by Gregory Ramon Anderson) unfortunately isn’t nearly so straightforward; the overlong ending grows increasingly ridiculous with its twists and coincidences involving years of generational grudges and jealousy.

Meagan Good co-stars as April, the most preternaturally gorgeous woman on campus. (White’s camera shamelessly ogles her in slow motion bending over for a sip at the water fountain and jogging in pink short-shorts.) April also happens to be the daughter of the snobbish provost and the girlfriend of a cocky, high-ranking member (Darrin Henson) of Mu Gamma Xi, which has won the national step competition the past seven years straight.

None of this deters DJ from pursuing her — and he doesn’t give up even after some totally implausible plot twists intended to keep him away. Instead he joins the rival Theta Nu Theta (all these fraternity names are made up, by the way) and helps jazz up their routines by adding his freestyle moves to their structured lines.

This clash and combination of old and new also happened to be the central aesthetic conceit in “Step Up,” “Take the Lead” and, long before that, “Dirty Dancing,” by the way. So if you feel like you’ve seen this movie before, it’s because you probably have.

White leans heavily on his background of directing commercials and music videos during a dance battle at the beginning, in which he’s incapable of staying with one shot for more than three seconds. But he calms down as the film progresses and lets the dancing (choreographed by Dave Scott) speak for itself, even as “Stomp the Yard” drags toward its eventual predictable conclusion.