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Billy Dee Williams,
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A fish-out-of-water comedy about a talented street drummer from Harlem who enrolls in a Southern university, expecting to lead its marching band's drumline to victory. He initially flounders in his new world, before realizing that it takes more than talent to reach the top. Written by
Sujit R. Varma
The "talented young smart-ass goes to college and learns there's more to life than being skillful or clever" theme is an old one and it's been done better many times in the past. Robert Young learned about teamwork in "Navy Blue and Gold." More recently Rob Lowe learned the lesson in "Oxford Blues." The difference between Drumline and these and other older films on the same theme is that the lead characters evoked more sympathy. Nick Cannon's Devon Miles character is a self-centered, posturing, swaggering jackass who evokes immediate dislike and though you see him grow up a little in the course of the film, you never really learn to like or respect him.
Drumline also suffers from an identity crisis of its own. You're never really sure what sort of story it wants to tell. Is is a "coming of age" story, a drama, a comedy, a romance? It tries to be all of these at once and never seals the deal on any of them.
Drumline could have told a good story about a New York kid learning that there's more than one way to be black in this world. There are a couple of hints of that in Devon's relationship with Laila. Her comment to Devon: "Southern sisters don't date...we have boyfriends," could have been an opening to a good subplot about differences in black culture between different parts of the US, but, as with so many other possible plots, the story touches it lightly, and then flits off to something else. An arrogant young freshman such as Devon would have had many lessons to learn while finding his way in this environment, but the film misses nearly every opportunity to show us the relationships between the characters in any depth, so the performances come off as predictable and mechanical.
All the same, I've seen Drumline several times and enjoyed it for what it does very well. The presentation of the music and and the work that goes into running a big university marching band are very good. I could have done with more of both. The all-too-brief glimpses of life at a black southern university are well done. Again, I could have done with more of that as well. Drumline also had moments of humor, and some visually engaging camera work, especially in the music scenes.
I like this movie. I just wish it had been better done.
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