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After graduating from high school in Harlem, gifted drummer Devon Myles (Nick Cannon) wins a scholarship to join the marching band at Atlanta A & T University. Personally selected by bandleader Dr Aaron Lee (Orlando Jones), Devon quickly proves himself as the most talented and rebellious member of the drumming team. His position in the band is threatened by a fierce rivalry with drum squad leader Sean (Leonard Roberts) and his romance with lead dancer Laila (Zoe Saldana) suffers when Devon incites an on-field fistfight with a rival band. As the college marching band championship approaches, Devon must control his talent and his attitude if he's to play his part in helping Atlanta A & T defeat the formidable Morris Brown College band.

Review by Richard Kuipers:
I admit that a film about American college marching bands hardly sounded inspiring and I'm even happier to admit how pleasantly I was surprised by Drumline. Impressive for what it has to say and for the clichés it leaves out, this good-hearted item finds engaging ways to tell the familiar story of a youngster with formidable talent but lacking in the emotional maturity to use it properly.

In this case it's African-American teenager Devon (Nick Cannon), who can out-drum everyone in the band but hasn't listened to the college motto of "One Band, One Sound". Devon's cockiness soon works against him, allowing jealous drum team leader Sean (Leonard Roberts) to exploit a weakness and endangering Devon's budding romance with Laila (Zoe Saldana) who in the best tradition of new girl power at the movies is a brainy philosophy student as well as the foxy leader of the band's dancing girl contingent. Not that we see too much studying going on here. After all, this is still an American college movie and we know that sporting activities and house parties are much more important than academic achievement. What Drumline does offer is a very strong sense of the life education these very well written characters are receiving.

It's refreshing to see an African-American male protagonist who isn't a bad-ass dude hell-bent on righting the wrongs of his childhood in the ghetto. Wonderfully played by Nick Cannon, Devon is a smart kid who isn't involved with gangs or drugs and
just wants to make his dreams come true. We see his divorced parents only briefly at the beginning and they are not wheeled out for the kind of sentimental finale so many lesser films of this type indulge in without blinking. This movie is smart about its characters and smart about avoiding the tired conventions of these kinds of stories. The romance between Devon and Laila is sweet, believable and almost revolutionary for its omission of sexual encounters and tempestuous break-up-and-make-up scenes. Instead, these appealing kids talk about ideas and responsibilities, just like clever young adults really do.

The sidelines of this drama are as thoughtfully constructed as the main game. Devon's
band-mates are an appealing bunch and Orlando Jones brings depth to his portrayal of dedicated bandleader Dr Lee, who admires the classics and isn't ready just yet to fill the repertoire with crowd-pleasing hip-hop tunes when college administrators start leaning on him to produce results. Drumline takes a while to warm up and you might think it's the marching band movie answer to Tigerland as new recruits are whipped into shape in the rather prolonged training sequences. It's much more than that and by the time the Atlanta A & T big band reach the final showdown in front of 50,000 screaming spectators, don't be surprised if you're gripped by Devon's destiny and excited by the bizarre flair of this peculiar form of American showbiz.

Published June 24, 2004

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(US, 2003)

CAST: Nick Cannon, Zoe Saldana, Orlando Jones, Leonard Roberts, GQ, Jason Weaver, Earl Poitier

DIRECTOR: Charles Stone III

SCRIPT: Tina Gordon Chism, Shawn Schepps (Shawn Schepps, story)

RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes

PRESENTATION: widescreen


DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: June 16, 2004

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