Save the Last Dance Review

Apr 25, 2001 | 11:52am EDT

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.

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