Drumline does more than capture the excitement of marching bands; it gets their clockwork beauty as well. Photographed in vibrant close-up, the darting flashes of white glove, the thrashing synchronicity of the drumbeats, and the spin-on-a-dime military precision combine to make you feel as if you’re standing in the nerve center of a glittering funk machine. When Devon Miles (Nick Cannon), the new snare drummer at A&T University in Atlanta, gets his chance to perform a solo during a halftime show, his mouth twists with pleasure at what a great drummer he is. What he doesn’t realize is that his desire to smash that snare in louder, wilder, and ever more intricate ways grows directly out of the power of the group itself.
Devon, in other words, is a hotshot who has to learn to be a team player. ”Drumline” is unabashedly a kind of collegiate ”Top Drum,” but the director, Charles Stone III, keeps the tensions flowing — between the rivals on the field, between rap rhythm and old-school soul. Mr. Lee (Orlando Jones), who runs the marching-band program like basic training, insists that his musicians ignore the nastiness of hip-hop for the glories of Earth, Wind & Fire; he may be right about EWF, but he has a lesson to learn too. Jones proves there’s an actor of force behind those popping eyes. ”Drumline” is a superlative B movie — funny, sexy, and rousing. It made me want to get in line for whatever Stone does next.