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Drumline Review

By Shawn McKenzie 12/11/2002

Weren’t the kids in marching band always the kids who were picked on all the time?  Even though I was never in band in high school (I can barely master the kazoo), I love music and had a great respect for the band.  I think after more people see Drumline, not only will there less teasing of band members, but I could picture a few of those teasers signing up for the band.

Drumline tells the story of a talented kid named Devon Miles Jr. (Nick Cannon), who is amazing on the snare drum.  The music director of Atlanta A & T University, Dr. Aaron Lee (Orlando Jones), recruits him for the school marching band on a full music scholarship.  Apparently, A & T, along with rival school Morris Brown University, are nationally known for their highly talented and skillful marching bands, and specifically the percussion sections.  Every year there is a televised marching band competition called the BET Southern Classic in which the winning school receives a grant for their music program.  A & T had been the consistent winner for years, but in the last few years, it has gone to Morris Brown, whose music program is headed by Mr. Wade (J. Anthony Brown.)  Dr. Lee had previously been an assistant to Mr. Wade, but left him when he got the opportunity to head his own program.  Part of the reason that A & T had been losing lately is because Dr. Lee doesn’t think there has been any good music made since 1980, so his band is a little outdated style-wise, and has no respect for Mr. Wade orchestrating his band to do crowd-pleasing hip-hop.  Dr. Lee thinks Devon might be the band’s saving grace.  Devon bonds instantly with some of his band mates, including Big Rob (Shay Roundtree), who is proud to play the tuba, and Jayson, a.k.a. Affirmative Action (GQ), the white guy who is at A & T because he loves the music.  Devon also attracts a girl on the dance squad named Laila (Zoe Saldana.)  He is a little tired of the restrictions that they set in terms of the organization of the band, so he rebels by blatantly outshining everyone else, which makes the leader of the drumline, Sean (Leonard Roberts), irate with him.  The two bump heads, and Sean begins to notice something unusual about Devon.  When he calls Devon on his suspicions and finds out they were true, he brings it to Dr. Lee, who kicks Devon out of the band (Devon’s rebellious attitude didn’t help him either.)  This doesn’t sit well with the Principal of A & T (Al Wiggins), who not only wants Devon back in the band, but wants Dr. Lee to use Devon to help modernize the sound of the band.  Devon has to learn to work as part of a whole instead of showboating; Sean has to learn to accept that there are other natural talents out there besides himself; and Dr. Lee has to learn to compromise with the school and the band without compromising his love of what he considers “real music.”

There are so many things to praise about this movie.  First, the acting is great.  I’ve never seen Cannon’s Nickelodeon show, but he is definitely an emerging talent.  I’ve seen Jones do drama before, but this movie confirms that he is able to do it, even if his previous dramas (Magnolia, Liberty Heights, The Time Machine) hadn’t.  The writing was great as well.  While this was a drama, there were healthy doses of comedy that was funnier than some comedies I’ve seen this year.  Finally, there was the music and performances.  They were absolutely breathtaking!  I don’t know how much of it was performed by “stunt” drummers or how much was performed by the actual actors, but it looked really cool and sounded great.

There were a couple of problems here though.  It was a little long, and that is due mainly to a couple of side plotlines that go nowhere.  One is with Devon and his relationship with his deadbeat dad, Devon Miles Sr. (Von Coulter.)  They touch on it briefly, but ultimately it didn’t add much more than time-wasting to the movie.  In addition, the individual little problems of some of his band mates are a mild distraction, like one guy pledging a fraternity and Jayson trying to move up in status in the band, but they too just succeed in making the movie a little longer than it needed to be.

If you are a fan of great music and you want to see some incredible drum performances, check out Drumline.  If this movie becomes a hit, I can guarantee you that the number of kids joining the band will rise by leaps and bounds!

Check out the original soundtrack featuring some of the drumming performances in the movie and new songs by some of today’s hottest rap and R&B acts:


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