Would that marching band had been regarded as half as cool when I was tromping around my high school football field with a clarinet and a pirate's hat. In Drumline, hotshot NYC drummer Devon (Nick Cannon) arrives at Atlanta A&T's band boot camp with a full scholarship and a mean swagger. No one can deny that Devon is the best of the best, least of all Devon, who has, to put it gently, issues with authority. He immediately butts heads with section leader cum drill sergeant Sean (Leonard Roberts), who can't seem to drum into Devon's head A&T's motto ' "one band, one sound" (as opposed to Devon's preferred "one band, one long, kick-ass snare solo").
Devon and Sean's fierce tug-of-war stands as A&T's primary obstacle to winning the BET Classic, the yearly marching band face-off that rival school Morris Brown has won five years running, mostly due to its crowd-pleasing renderings of Snoop Dogg and the like. At one game, Morris Brown slings a hip-hop song like a challenge at A&T across the field. Band director Dr. Lee (Orlando Jones), who favors musicianship over showmanship, orders his students to respond with "Flight of the Bumblebee" ' technically a wower, but not exactly something the crowd can shake its tail feather to.
Drumline's "rookie overcomes adversity, makes good" trajectory is fairly routine. (As my seatmate noted, "It's like 8 Mile for band geeks!") But there are so many winning elements here it seems churlish to hem and haw over formula. Every one of the principals could be singled out for his fine work, as well as a fistful of the supporting players (rapper GQ is especially endearing as a white-boy drummer who affably puts up with the nickname "Affirmative Action"). Jones distinguishes himself in a largely dramatic role, but it's Cannon who carries the picture, his high-voltage smile and impish antics tempering Devon's often grating cocksuredness.
The climactic BET classic is a foregone conclusion, but the path to competition is intelligent, funny and, above all, fun. Director Charles Stone III lenses the many performance sequences with style and skill, and it's near impossible for your feet to resist the snare's persistent rat-a-tat-tat. Drumline is good, clean fun, with none of the icky aftertaste so common to "family friendly" fare.