Wanting badly to be another ethnic dance movie in the spirit of SATURDAY
NIGHT FEVER, SAVE THE LAST DANCE never rises above SATURDAY NIGHT COLD.
Starring two badly miscast leads, the film features Julia Stiles as would-be
Julliard ballerina Sara Johnson and Sean Patrick Thomas as inner city black
high school student and would-be future doctor Derek Reynolds. Stiles (10
THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU) just does not have the body of a ballerina. Would
you cast Danny DeVito to try out for the NBA? And Thomas (CRUEL INTENTIONS)
has upper middle-class prep school written all over him. Don't get me
wrong, the only good part of the movie is their relationship together. The
problem is that they don't fit the script, and even if they did, this is not
a movie worth making. Between its lame dance sequences is more dead air
time than a radio station during a long power blackout.
The movie, directed by Thomas Carter and written by Duane Adler and Cheryl
Edwards, never can decide what kind of movie it wants to be. Sometimes it's
a sappy melodrama. Sometimes it tries to be a hard hitting drama about
jealousy among the races over interracial dating. Derek's sister Chenille
(Kerry Washington) complains to Sara about her taking "one of the few decent
men we have left after jail, drugs and drive-bys." Sometimes it is about
male bonding ("Blood is thicker than blondes.") And sometimes, finally, we
get around to dancing, but the choreography is so awkward and the editing so
choppy that you probably won't care.
It all starts when Sara's mom is killed while rushing to Sara's Julliard
audition. Cue the harps. Off Sara goes next to live with the man whom she
calls Roy (Terry Kinney) but who once was her father. Cue the violins. He
has all of the personality of the torn wallpaper that decorates the
flea-bitten apartment where he lives. This makes Sara almost the only white
face in her new high school.
At this point, Sara refuses to dance anymore or even talk about it. Of
course, after she meets and falls for Derek, it's quickly Julliard or bust.
Along the way we are taught many dubious moral lessons. Derek's sister,
still in high school, has a son, but she shows more interest in her wardrobe
than her son, whom she has palmed off on her mother like a batch of dirty
laundry. Needless to say, the boy's father is even less interested in his
own offspring. The kids all get fake ids and drink illegally in a fancy
nightclub in elegant clothes. Where does all this money come from since no
one seems to work?
And then there's the issue of violence. Malakai (Fredro Starr), with whom
Derek unconvincingly claims to have once knocked over a liquor store, wants
to go shoot up another gang's neighborhood in retaliation for a previous
raid. Yes, this whole script is lifted from lots of other films and plays,
most notably WEST SIDE STORY. But in those, the actions have some amount of
credibility. Here people are shot, but the dreamy background music makes it
seem downright romantic and not especially painful.
I kept wanting to stop the movie, clear off the set except for the two
leads, and begin anew with a completely different script and director. I
like Stiles and Thomas together. I did not like the movie in which they
found themselves stuck.
SAVE THE LAST DANCE runs 1:53. It is rated PG-13 for violence, sexual
content, language and brief drug references and would be acceptable for
My son Jeffrey, age 11, gave the picture just **. He thought it was too
slow, the whole Malakai character was unnecessary, and he didn't like Sara's
relationship with her parents. He did comment favorably on the two leads.
Copyright © 2001 Steve Rhodes