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Save The Last Dance

Julia Stiles throws away the ballet shoes and gets jiggy with Sean Patrick Thomas in this story of teenage romance set on the dance floor.


Julia Stiles is Sara, a serious high schooler whose dreams of becoming a professional ballerina died with her mother in a car accident. She's shipped off from New England to live with her sloppy jazz-musician dad in Chicago's South Side and starts at a school where she's one of only a few white kids. She learns how to adapt by getting into the hip-hop dance scene with the help of smart, popular Derek (Sean Patrick Thomas), the coolest cat at the local club who teaches ill-at-ease Sara how to shake her booty right. Romance blooms, and of course, everyone else at school has a problem with it - would there be a movie here if they didn't?


First of all, whoever came up with the notion that Julia Stiles could ever pass for a ballerina probably lost his executive head -- she practically dwarfs Thomas. That said, a lesser actress wouldn't have carried off this silly, clichéd story nearly as well. She's engagingly awkward and innocent, believable as the small-town girl thrown into an alien environment. Derek is likable, warm and tender as he not only inspires Sara's hip-hop dance moves but also the pursuit of her dreams. He really struggles with the push-pull between his loyalty to his gang-banger friends and his own dreams of going Ivy League to become a doctor. The charismatic relationship Derek and Sara share is the best thing about this film and almost - uh, that's almost - helps you overlook ridiculous lines of dialogue like this: Derek tells Sara he likes kids, and she asks if he's fathered any yet.


Three words: "Oh, come on!" "Last Dance" plays like an episode of "Fame," complete with every stereotype in the book thrown in and the requisite big let's-overcome-the-odds audition scene at the end. Of course, Sara's a white outsider who's resented by her black classmates. Derek's brassy sister Chenille (the engaging Kerry Washington), is, of course, a single mom. Of course Derek and Chenille's mom is in jail for "doing what women do for money when they need drugs," as Chenille puts it. And of course, this being the South Side and all, Derek's best childhood buddy is a gang-banging homeboy named Malakai (Fredro Starr), who'd rather do drive-bys than homework. We've never seen this before, have we? And if you believe that's Stiles dancing in her big audition, you probably thought Milli Vanilli deserved their Grammy.

Bottom line

Instead of wasting time in the theater watching these two dance, go out and hit the clubs yourself.