Drumline is suspect from the get-go, sending drumstick-wielding hero Devon to a subway station to shove his high school diploma in the face of his absentee pops. The second the film cuts from Devon’s graduation with his obviously single mom to his presence in the grimy MTA token line, it’s crystal clear what’s about to happen. What isn’t obvious is that despite not having much to do with the film proper other than to lay a little character foundation for Devon — a confident sparkplug, bar none — the scene works perfectly. And that can be said for the rest of the movie, which follows Devon through the ups and downs of his hubris-laced freshman year as the young stud of the Atlanta A&T University marching band drum corps.
Credit is due in part to the ability of Drumline’s push-button predictable screenplay to take a time-tested story arc and apply it effectively to a plot somewhere to the left of Bring It On. (Pretty much the only aspect of the gridiron institution not yet covered by Hollywood is the secret culture of scoreboard maintenance men and the cultish nature of the ticket-taking crew.) There are places where it falls short, though, notably in its easy resolutions of its protagonist’s fatal flaws.
Where most of the responsibility for the entertainment of Drumline lies is with star Nick Cannon, who bounces from Nickelodeon to screen with a confident swagger that finds just the right balance between the script’s mediocre beats, the sweetness of a story about battling bands instead of gunslinger shoot-outs, and his character’s overly superior attitude. Devon should not be a likable guy. He’s loathsome on paper. He lies; he upstages; he lacks respect for anybody and everybody; and he doesn’t even seem to appreciate the fact that his drumming scholarship means he gets a free education when he admits to his instagirlfriend (Zoë Saldana) that, until the AA&T band director came knocking on his door, he hadn’t even considered college.
It’s hard to shake the feeling that even at the movie’s end, when classic structure has taken Devon from point A to B to C in his emotional journey, he hasn’t actually changed all that much. Cannon has the tools to make Devon, in all his arrogance, irresistible even as he’s being totally obnoxious. And he uses every one of them.
Erin Podolsky writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].