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They Got the Beat 

*Drumline (PG-13)
20th Century Fox

Bring it on! Drumline, the story of a Harlem boy who enters the legendary world of show marching bands at fictional Atlanta A&T University, rocks in the tradition of the 2001 cheerleading flick Bring It On.

Booty-shaking and life affirming, it is, unlike its predecessor, populated with characters that look and feel like real people.

Nick Cannon plays Devon, a good kid from the 'hood, who's far away from home -- eager, cocky, talented and ambitious. What awaits him at A&T is basically marching band boot camp, complete with an overbearing drill sergeant, head-of-the-drumline Sean (Leonard Roberts), who can't wait to put Devon in his place.

Throw in a love interest, the lovely Laila (Zoe Saldana), a member of the band's dancing team; a dorm room full of cute musical cohorts; and a stern professor, Dr. Lee (Orlando Jones), who tries to teach his charges to perform as a team, and you've got a coming-of-age tale told in R&B time with hip-hop flashes and more than a splash of soul.

Director Charles Stone III, best known for his "Whassup" Budweiser television commercials, stylishly brings Tina Gordon Chism and Shawn Schepps' script to life. Part of the charm of Drumline is the inside look at an unfamiliar world, skillfully drawn. We learn about the technical aspects of the college marching band scene while getting to know a few of its members and a lot about its challenges.

Orlando Jones delivers a moving supporting performance as Dr. Lee, a wise teacher who understands that he can learn from his students while maintaining the integrity of his teaching ideals. And Cannon plays Nick with a magnetic mix of orneriness, determination and laid-back humor.

In a story that could have been packed with stereotypes, I'm happy to report you won't find one. The screenwriters and the director wisely choose to give their stock characters multiple dimensions. The stand-offs and dramatic conflicts aren't pat. The film delivers a few surprises, a delightful and surprisingly innocent romance, and some moments of rare vulnerability and tenderness.

But what it delivers in spades is the beat. The audience danced in their seats the day I saw Drumline. Real show bands from Morris Brown College, Clark Atlanta University, Bethune-Cookman College of Daytona Beach and Louisiana's Grambling University deliver the goods in the final scenes where Atlanta A&T competes in an intercollegiate marching band championship, strutting their stuff and beating the skin off those drums. These musical numbers are rousing and energetic, skillfully executed and remarkably powerful in their good-natured zest.

-- Kathryn Eastburn

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