Drumline (2002) Movie Review

I should probably mention that I know nothing about music. Oh sure, I listen to music, but as to playing music? Let’s just say that I once took a course in piano, but washed out on the second day. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am music-challenged. It is with this disadvantage in mind that I sat down for some “Drumline”, a movie about college students in a Southern college where football games are second place to the halftime marching band show.

“Drumline” consists of a mostly black cast, with a Token White Guy thrown in for good measure. (Hey, every movie with a mostly white cast has a Token Black Guy, so why would the reverse be any different?) The film is 30 minutes too long, and is about Devon (Nick Cannon), a hotshot drummer from New York who comes down south to ply his trades, hit on the hot upperclassman dance squad member, tick off the resident hotshot drummer on the marching band, and butt heads with the traditional marching band director played by Orlando Jones (“Evolution”).

To be honest, I’m not sure how much of “Drumline” can be taken as truth and how much is the product of creative license. The beginning sequence in particular, when the freshmen class goes through a rigorous physical “boot camp”, reeks of over exaggeration. The movie also takes the whole marching band thing very seriously. True, Southern colleges are traditionally very music-minded, and it’s also true that the football games sometimes come second to the marching band “battles” that takes place at halftime. (Of course this also means your football team has to be pretty bad if the crowd is looking forward to the halftime show rather than watching you play.)

Still, the way these characters treat their craft is more reminiscent of enemies on battlefields rather than, you know, the school marching band. (Come on, since when did being in a marching band was anything other than an embarrassing line in your resume that you immediately try to discount once you left school?) There are a lot of those moments in “Drumline”, which means I was plenty amused, even though I’m quite certain that wasn’t the reaction the screenplay was going for. I just can’t take anything this goofy seriously, I’m sorry.

“Drumline” is a basic college movie, and its mostly black cast doesn’t change the fact that you’ve seen this movie played out many times before, only with white actors. In fact, if you’ve seen a movie called “The Program”, about football players and their coach, then you’ve seen “Drumline”. All the creators of “Drumline” did was exchange football players for marching band geeks, but kept the screenplay.

The film’s only real treat is the marching band battles, which are always colorful and loud and fun to watch. The film’s final 30 minutes, actually, is taken up by a regional “band off”, I guess you’d call it. The rest is predictable. Who didn’t know that Orlando Jones, playing the school’s beleaguered marching band director, would finally triumph over his cross-town rival by movie’s end and thus justify his clinging to traditional music? Or that selfish Devon would learn to respect others and himself? Or that the Token White Guy with no rhythm would learn to “get his groove on”?

If you like hearing drums beat on endlessly for minutes on end, “Drumline” is for you. But if you find the whole “sport” of marching band to be somewhat ridiculous, then I guess this movie would only further convince you that band guys are geeks who takes themselves way too seriously. Whatever the case, “Drumline” offers up some pretty entertaining dance sequences by the various schools’ dance squads. Too bad the camera keeps cutting back to those band geeks, though.

Charles Stone III (director) / Shawn Schepps, Tina Gordon Chism (screenplay)
CAST: Nick Cannon …. Devon
Zoe Saldana …. Laila
Orlando Jones …. Dr. James Lee
Leonard Roberts …. Sean
GQ …. Jason

Buy Drumline on DVD