American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
When the first half is over, the show begins. So "Drumline" advises us, in a story centered on the marching band of a predominantly black university in Atlanta. Devon (Nick Cannon), a drummer so good he was personally recruited by the bandmaster, journeys from Harlem to the middle-class world of Atlanta A&T, where he is the best drummer in the band, and the most troublesome.
He's a hotshot, cocky, a showboat who adds a solo to the end of his audition piece and upstages his section leader in front of thousands of fans during a half-time show. The movie shows him gradually drumming himself out of the band, and out of favor with Laila (Zoe Saldana), the dance major he's dating. It also shows him growing up, learning some lessons, and making a friend out of a former enemy.
The film sets Devon's story against the background of the BET Big Southern Classic, a (fictional) annual competition between marching bands that's held in Atlanta. His school's traditional rival is cross-town Morris Brown University, a real school whose band is famed for its halftime shows. MBU's band is flashy and high-stepping, doing anything to please the crowd, while Atlanta A&T's bandmaster, Dr. Aaron Lee (Orlando Jones), has more serious musical tastes and believes the primary job of a band member is to learn.
"Drumline," directed by Charles Stone, and written by Tina Gordon Chism and Shawn Schepps, is entertaining for what it does, and admirable for what it doesn't do. It gets us involved in band politics and strategy, gives us a lot of entertaining halftime music, and provides a portrait of a gifted young man who slowly learns to discipline himself and think of others. That's what it does.