boston.com Arts and Entertainment your connection to The Boston Globe
MOVIE REVIEW

An old dance with some smooth steps

Columbus Short plays scholarship kid DJ and Meagan Good is the provost's daughter April in "Stomp the Yard." (Alfeo Dixon/Screen Gems)

"Stomp the Yard" is a vigorous college cheerleading movie with pumped fists instead of pom-poms. The white skin has been replaced with all kinds of creams, caramels, and cocoas.

Our setting is one of Atlanta's prestigious historically black universities, albeit a fictitious one, and our newcomer is DJ (Columbus Short), a scholarship kid fresh from Los Angeles streets that more or less took his brother, a dancer for sport, like himself. He doesn't want to be there, but like I said, this is a college cheerleading movie, and the movie is cheerleading for college.

After the school's two rival fraternities get a load of DJ's dance movies -- a little krump, a little Savion Glover, some hydraulics -- they both attempt to recruit him to step for them. Stepping is a dance that requires discipline and team showboating, not the buck-wild solo stuff he's used to. It also means time away from his studies and his campus job, doing grounds keeping chores for his unsmiling uncle (Harry J. Lennix).

And why conform to the black Greek system, anyway? One gander at the wall of fame in the school's all-purpose heritage hall corrects his ignorance: Esther Rolle, Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, her husband, Martin. Soon DJ pledges, and the fictional outfit he chooses, Theta Nu Theta -- a.k.a. the Vipers a.k.a. TNT a.k.a. his background dancers -- has six weeks to prepare for the nation al step competition.

I'm a sucker for a movie that mixes suds with sweat. So I was pleased to see that DJ, on registration day, is stopped, as so many men in B-movies before him have been, by the vision of Meagan Good , who's as teasingly luscious as ever. Naturally, she's the girlfriend of the egomaniac in the rival fraternity, who's played by the pop-music choreographer Darrin Henson . (We can tell he's the villain; a lot of his moves are old Britney Spears routines.) In any case, Good is also the provost's daughter, which is what the movie should have been called. And daddy don't like no thug, even one as cute, limber, and personably un-thug-like as DJ.

This is the screenwriter Robert Adetuyi's second movie in a week. At some megaplexes, his "Code Name: The Cleaner" is stinking up the house next door. "Stomp the Yard," which Sylvain White directed, has a lot more to observe -- and not just the way Good manages to jog on concrete like a "Baywatch" girl, although that is fascinating.

This is the first movie since Spike Lee's "School Daze" to even consider the social complexities of black college life, and Lee's film was almost 20 years ago. Granted, a lot of what "Stomp the Yard" considers complicated is daytime-TV stuff (secrets, lies, tears, Keith Sweat as a competition judge). But the movie does afford Lennix, the suave Valarie Pettiford , as his wife, and Brian White , as the Theta's dignified leader, the chance to enliven the proceedings with elegance.

The raucous dancing, meanwhile, is where most of the drama is. The girls in the movie theater screamed when it start ed . They also screamed at every shirtless training sequence and when something bad happen ed to the singer Chris Brown, who has a small part. The movie doubles as a hormonal horror show. For his part, Short, another pop choreographer, sounds like Vin Diesel, but he moves like a bee. When he dances, he makes sure every girl in the theater goes home stung.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com. For more on movies, go to boston.com/ae/movies/blog.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES