On the television series Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Columbus Short plays a brooding, brilliant young television writer taken under wing by elder statesman and comedian D.L. Hughley. It's not one of the show's most integral roles, but Short plays it for broke, giving the writer's restrained wit just the right glimmer of naiveté and confusion to escape two-dimensional branding. For his first starring role in a feature film, Short plays a skilled krumper from L.A. in Sylvain White's Stomp the Yard.
After teaching some lessons to a rival krumping gang on the battleground, DJ (Short) witnesses the assault and murder of his brother (Chris Brown). Posthaste, he makes his way to Atlanta and enrolls in a work-study program at Truth University. It's here that DJ regains his love for dancing in the form of stepping, a more formatted and coordinated dance style compared to DJ's loose krumping. He quickly makes enemies with Grant (Darrin Dewitt Henson) by giving eyes to April (Meagan Good), Grant's girlfriend. However, this leads to him getting in good with the Thetas, the rival stepping gang to Grant's Gammas. As luck would have it, DJ impresses his frat brothers and becomes a star in the step team, winning further admiration from April and setting him up for a step-off with Grant's crew. Article continues below
Of all the weird sub-genres that could have turned into box-office gold, there's a certain cultural niche that these dance competition films serve, but it's not hefty enough. You Got Served was the golden goose, and sweet Jehovah, it's laying eggs in every multiplex you can give your cold cash to. The dance competition has become a national commune for the cinematic public, for one reason or another; the unfathomable success of both You Got Served and Stomp the Yard came from nowhere, yet in hindsight it's utterly obvious.
If dancing is the spectacle in these films, Stomp the Yard fails in simple effectiveness. The dancing, on the few occasions that we actually see it, is filmed with ferocity and urgency, but it doesn't deliver enough visual flair to justify continued audience engagement. Beyond this, the film is formulaic, but warmly receivable in its narrative ease. DJ will of course win the girl, find his place at the school and the basic karmic alignments and adjustments will be made. It goes so by the rules to the point that once can actually call the training/return to form montage that DJ delivers in an emptied swimming pool. If there is any sort of cultural relevance to be found in a movie like Stomp the Yard, it's that spectacles don't even matter anymore: We just need the possibility of a spectacle.