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`Stomp the Yard' crushes a genre

The dance-off dramatics have been done to death, and a cool video veneer can't disguise it.

January 12, 2007|Michael Ordona | Special to The Times

"West Side Story." "Bring It On." "Starsky & Hutch." Cinematic dance "battles" are hardly new, but audiences are likely to emerge from "Stomp the Yard" with battle fatigue.

The film opens with the first of many such conflicts, in unabashed music-video style (director Sylvain White is a video vet), as headstrong DJ (Columbus Short, "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip") and his crew take on some sore losers in an underground L.A. club. After a tragedy as predictable as gravity, will he ever dance again?

Yes. He will.

There's a whole lotta dancin' in this movie. The hordes of hoofers receive so much pedal punishment one hopes they're at least gellin' (in DJ's case, like a felon).

DJ ends up at a very clean university in Atlanta, where his moves land him in the midst of a deadly serious step-dancing rivalry between two fraternities. It's hard not to laugh when the tough-guy dancers appear offended by their opponents' choreography. It's harder to figure out why anyone wins except that it advances the shopworn plot.

The script, credited to Robert Adetuyi ("Code Name: The Cleaner"), rolls off the conveyor belt with all required parts intact. Here's the wacky friend, here's the gorgeous girl who just happens to be with the dirtbag BMOC, here's the lesson the talented loner must learn about teamwork.

"Stomp the Yard" is really a college sports movie, with the big game being the National Step Finals. The genre's skeleton has been dragged out of the ground so many times that it's most enjoyable these days dressed up in parodies by Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell and the like.

In fact, although one team's "cobra" gesture surely predated Stiller's in "Dodgeball," that comedic recollection elicits giggles as the oh-so-determined combatants take the stage hissing and "striking."

There's athleticism and frenetic artistry here, but the film's attempts to make busting moves seem dramatic are about as effective as the hilarious chess-piece slamming in "Searching for Bobby Fisher."

Such tactics are most egregious, however, when the movie invokes Rosa Parks and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (more than once) in an apparent attempt to make the conflict seem important. Yes, stepping is an age-old tradition at historically African American schools, but this smells of desperation; one more misstep for a film with two left feet.

"Stomp the Yard." MPAA rating: PG-13 for a scene of violence, some sexual material and language. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes. In general release.

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