2002, Movie, PG-13, 97 mins


Who knew marching bands could be so sexy? This handsomely mounted production, set in the flamboyant, highly competitive world of show-style university marching bands (think of it as BRING IT ON's even funkier brother), may be a standard coming-of-age drama at heart. But the fantastically edited scenes of battling bands in action are guaranteed to set your heart racing. Devon Miles (Nick Cannon), an extraordinarily talented young drummer from New York City's Harlem, has a way with the sticks that's won him a scholarship to Atlanta A&T, a large Southern university with a predominantly black student body and a first-rate marching band. First-rate, but not first-place; that honor belongs to neighboring Morris Brown College, another black school whose marching band has won the BET Classic four years in a row. A&T's administration blames the losing streak on music director Dr. Lee (Orlando Jones), who won't sacrifice musicianship for showmanship. Lee's musical tastes run more to Earth, Wind and Fire than Cisqo, and unlike Morris Brown's booty-shaking, audience-pleasing band leader, he refuses to incorporate contemporary hip-hop into his band's repertoire. Senior Sean Taylor (Leonard Roberts), the hard-nosed head of A&T's drum line, runs his crew more like boot camp than band camp and strictly adheres to Dr. Lee's credo of "one band, one sound." But those are words the individualistic Devon finds hard to live by; even though he quickly becomes a star attraction, Devon's conflicts with Sean — and a closely guarded secret — threaten his place in the band. Director Charles Stone III, who made his feature debut earlier in 2002 with the underrated PAID IN FULL, breezes through the more formulaic aspects of the story. Devon falls into a predictable romance with a beautiful, well-to-do upperclassman (Zoe Saldana) and the script is littered with trite inspirational messages: "Whatever obstacles life brings, you can fly," "You have to learn to follow before you can lead," and the like. The action on the field, however, commands Stone's — and the audience's — full attention, and features some truly breathtaking percussive performances. And what you see on screen is the real deal: The thrilling climactic competition pits the fictional A&T University Panther Band against four of the best real-life, 300-member marching bands the South has to offer, and it makes for a grand slice of pulse-pounding entertainment. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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