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Reviewed by: David Litton
Genre: Comedy
Video: 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 2.0, Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0
Language: English, French, Spanish
Subtitle: English, French, Spanish
Length: 118 min
Rating: PG-13
Release Date: 04/15/2003
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Commentary: Feature commentary with director Charles Stone III
Documentaries: None
Featurettes: "Half Time is Game Time" BET special
Filmography/Biography: None
Interviews: None
Trailers/TV Spots: Theatrical trailer
Alternate/Deleted Scenes: Deleted scenes with optional commentary
Music Video: Joe featuring Jadakiss "I Want a Girl Like You" and JC Chasez "Blowin' Me Up (With Her Love)" music videos
Other: Soundtrack promo spot
Cast and Crew: Nick Cannon, Zoe Saldana, Orlando Jones, Leonard Roberts, GQ, Jason Weaver, Earl Poitier
Written By: Tina Gordon Chism, Shawn Schepps
Produced by: Timothy M. Bourne, Wendy Finerman, Jody Gerson
Directed By: Charles Stone III
Music: John Powell
The Review:

I would like to say that in order for one to enjoy a movie like "Drumline," it takes a knowledge of the hard work and perserverance that go into performing in a marching band. Of course, I would be completely wrong. Two years ago when "Bring It On" was released, I had no problem getting into the bubble gum-flavored pizazz and spontaneity of a movie about cheerleading, a sport I have no comprehension of outside of a few football games. That was a fun, perky, zesty little movie with lots of energy to spare, and while "Drumline" has its own unique brand of zeal to spend, there was something about the movie that just wasn't striking the right rhythm. ***

As someone who spent four years of high school taking orders from a section leader (in addition to being one myself for three years), practicing moves on hot summer afternoons and cold winter mornings, and stepping out onto a football field in front of a large crowd, I can attest to the film's authenticity in its portrayal of certain situations and setups. The film's director, Charles Stone III, has put a great deal of care into his project, giving us an intimate look at the pressures of the marching band players as they go through endless routines day after day, all for the sake of trying to be the best they can be. When you see the bands of this film step out to perform mind-blowing musical numbers and thundering cadence sequences, you know that what you're seeing is as close to reality as you can get without actually holding the drumsticks yourself. ***

But for all of the hard work that went into the production, there's something ultimately lacking about the experience. You can have as many close-ups and panning shots of rolling sticks, clashing symbols, and throbbing bass drums as you please, but without a certain degree of energy behind them, they're nothing. My band director always told us that in order for us to play the music, we needed to feel the music, and I think the same analogy, had it been applied here, would have made the movie much more gratifying. ***

It's not the story that bothers me: I was expecting something routine, and that's what I got. It all starts when high school graduate Devon Miles (Nick Cannon) is accepted to the fictional Atlanta A&T University on a full scholarship in the marching band program. Once there, he comes under the watchful eye of the band's leader, Dr. James Lee (Orlando Jones), and is singled out by the percussion section leader (Leonard Roberts), who worries that his once-enviable skills have now been usurped. Before Devon finally learns his lesson in the end (that being a leader means learning how to be a follower), he has time to make nice with a local honey (Zoe Saldana) and cross paths with the leader of A&T's arch nemesis, a glitzy rival band whom they must face in the obligatory final showdown. ***

To be honest, the story's not half bad in its overly-familiar way. We get a nice mix of good acting and chemistry between the actors; hats off to Orlando Jones, who plays the stern band leader to perfection. An even bigger hats off to Nick Cannon, who makes the most of his character's rote trip down the path of realization, and becomes an engaging screen presence. At the very least, even if the territory is familiar, it has a solid moral for anyone to latch onto. ***

But what is it about "Drumline" that failed to inspire me as a moviegoer? Was I expecting too much? Should I have seen the film in theaters before all the hype had a chance to surface? What? All the elements are in place for what looked to be a rousing, feel-good, dance-in-your-seat crowd-pleaser, but there were too many times when I got the feeling that the film was hitting all the right notes, but without much feeling or passion.

Image and Sound

Another very good transfer from Fox. The image is framed at 2.35:1, and features excellent color saturation and fidelity with smooth textures and no bleeding. Contrast looks great, with terrific shadow detail, and edges are sharp with some slight enhancement artifacts to speak of. Being a modern film, the source print is free of blemishes, for a transfer that is clean throughout. Jammin'! ***

Also full of life is the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, which featured an abundance of deep bass from the .1 LFE that is very effective in bringing out the rhythms of the marching bands. Surrounds also get a good workout here, especially in the stadium scenes and when the camera plunges into the middle of the band itself. Imaging is very good, and dialogue sounds natural throughout. The only flaw in the track is that certain moments where the actual drumline plays by itself aren't as aggressive as they could (and should) be. Otherwise, it's phat!

The Extras

A surprise holiday hit for Fox in late 2002, "Drumline" went on to take in almost twice its production budget, with almost no advertising to speak of. As expected, the DVD has received a fairly sizeable collection of extras, some of which are good, others that don't hold up. ***

We first have a gallery of deleted scenes, ten in all, with optional commentary from Stone. Many of these scenes don't really add much to the movie, although I can understand why the reconciliation between Devon and his estranged father was left out. Up next is the BET special "Half Time is Game Time," which is nice, but left me hanging in terms of wanting to know more. The piece opens with some interviews from Nick Cannon, Orlando Jones, and Zoe Saldana, to name a few, with each of them basically giving us a recap of their characters and the story. Then we move right into the music, which takes up most of the running time here, and isn't all that interesting. The last few minutes give us the behind-the-scenes material we really want, with some footage of actors practicing moves and dance routines, and their reactions to the hard work. Then it ends, all-too-abruptly. ***

The disc closes out with two music videos, a soundtrack promo spot, and a trailer for "Antwone Fisher," which Fox seems heavy on promoting considering its lousy theatrical run.

Commentary To go along with the movie we have an audio commentary by director Charles Stone III, who invites us into the making of the movie with a wealth of backstory. He talks about everything from location filming in Atlanta, to the use of doubles for most of the scenes in which the drumline gets down and dirty. There are a lot of small insertions about character motivations and acting as well. Overall, it's pleasing.
Final Words: In summation, fans will appreciate this disc, but I wanted to know more about the production.

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April 27, 2003