Hollywood has a few well-rutted stories it likes to tell over and over, and Stomp The Yard includes at least five of them. It's an underdog sports movie. It's a slobs-vs.-snobs movie. It's a fish-out-of-water movie. It's a streets-to-success movie. It's a salvation-through-art movie. And above all, it's a romance, albeit of the super-contrived variety usually reserved for romantic comedies. Unfortunately, it misses the one cliché that might have been welcome: the predictably plotted flashy dance movie where the actual dance makes it all worthwhile.
In a badly mishandled, visually baffling opening sequence, street-smart protagonist Columbus Short and his L.A. dance-crew defeat another group of krumpers at an intense public dance-off, as Short's brother begs him not to provoke them on their turf. Predictably, when violence ensues, Short's brother is the one who pays the price. Thus an angst-ridden Short is shipped off to Atlanta's traditionally black Truth University, where he enters a work-study program under his judgmental groundskeeper uncle and makes ambitious eyes at generic campus hottie Meagan Good. But wait! Could Good possibly already have a rich, successful boyfriend (Darrin Henson)? Could Henson have been handpicked for her by her controlling father, the university provost, who hates Short's street background and could derail his education? Could Henson also be part of an arrogant fraternity step team, the seven-time national step-show champions? Could there be a noble underdog frat whose members truly value education and brotherhood, but long to show up the champs just once? And could Short's despised street background and hot urban battle-dance moves be useful to them in some way?
If nothing else, Stomp The Yard is efficient; it pounds through these trite subplots and more in record time, largely by shorthanding them down to a quick conversation apiece. That leaves more time for the uncomfortably shallow, manipulative central relationship—after scoping Good's ass and lips from afar, Short doggedly pressures her for a date, picking fights with Henson to teach her contempt for him—and for endless dance sequences incorporating step, krumping, and clowning. Those sequences, set to a soundtrack by a hip-hop who's-who, are the bread and butter of this kind of film, and they should be riveting, but director Sylvain White runs them into the ground via training montages, digital manipulation, and so many zooms, cuts, and slo-mo bits that it seems he doesn't trust his dancers to fill the screen. Which they might, if there was room for them among all the banality.