Last dance, last chance

by Robert J. Hawkins | Jun 19, 2001
Last dance, last chance In the blink of an eye, Sarah loses her mother, her dream of becoming a ballerina and her idyllic small-town life. As "Save the Last Dance" (Paramount, PG-13, VHS/DVD) begins, Sarah (Julia Stiles) sits moodily on a train bound for Chicago`s South Side, toward a father she barely knows and a culture that`s foreign.

One look at Sarah`s brooding, round face with the crescent moon frown and furrowed brow and you can tell that a light has gone out inside. There is numbness to her demeanor that suggests no one will ever be able to reach her. Lights out. Life`s over.

She moves among the living, feeling nothing from life, nothing of life, nothing for life. Whatever. She despises Derek (Sean Patrick Thomas) from the moment he opens his mouth in English class and delivers his African-American-centric perspective on the literary experience. But spite is an emotion. It is a start. For Sarah, it is progress.

Sarah is a white, middle-class country girl with a fine arts education in Derek`s all-black, urban, streetwise, hip-hop world. And yet, they find a common ground in dance. It is a common language - expression, movement, feeling, music. Their love of dance leads to a more intimate relationship for which they can find no one to second.

Sarah`s father Roy (Terry Kinney), a struggling musician, disapproves. But so do Derek`s family and friends, especially his childhood pal Malaki (Fredo Starr). Already the gap between Malaki and Derek is perilously wide. Malaki is back from a long stint in juvenile hall, one he took for Derek. He`s ripe for the streets. Derek is anxiously awaiting word from Georgetown University and the first step toward becoming a doctor. But Malaki sees Sarah as the wedge between them.

Derek`s ex-girlfriend Nikki (Bianca Lawson) sees Sarah as the embodiment of the worst in all whites - moving in and taking the best of everything. That`s a feeling Derek`s sister Chenille (Kerry Washington) feels briefly and lays on Sarah, too. Because of their friendship it is a blow more painful than those from Nikki`s fists. Sarah, having known neither prejudice nor diversity while growing up, reels in confusion.

As "Save the Last Dance" builds toward the climax, it refuses to sugarcoat the challenges faced in interracial relationships. The objections are more complicated than simple racism. They have roots in community, alienation, fear, history, socioeconomics, culture. The pressures are enormous, and for a time, too much for Sarah.

But it is Derek who ultimately must make the hard choice. Malaki beckons him toward the street where a brother is a brother with a code of conduct that is well-established and a life expectancy that is only slightly longer than that of an Army lieutenant in Vietnam. Sarah`s world is as foreign and uncertain to him as his was to her when she first came to the South Side.

It comes down to a Saturday when Derek must choose: Back his brother Malaki in a drive-by against another gang or be with Sarah as she auditions for Juilliard? Derek`s choice may be obvious but the movie, to its credit, does not let it be an easy one. The idea that dance can conquer all may be a bit too much to swallow for anyone with a modicum of intellect - but this is, after all, only a movie and it is produced by MTV, not exactly a well of serious thinking on any subject. That soundtrack is poppin`, the cast is talented and attractive, their moves are awesome and the story has its strong moments. Go for it.


"Proof of Life" (Warner, R, VHS/DVD) - Meg Ryan is the wife of an engineer who is kidnapped by rebel terrorists in a South American country.

When the man`s corporation pulls the plug, it is up to a steely-nerved international hostage negotiator to rescue him in a free-lance operation. That would be Russell Crowe.

Taylor Hackford directed this thriller based on a true story. The movie is a good peek into the shadowy world of terrorist kidnapping and the people who have built careers out of extracting the victims. It really gets crackling when the negotiations break down and Crowe has to recruit a fellow operative (David Caruso) into a paramilitary rescue.

The cold technical approach these men take to operations is probably the movie`s most fascinating aspect. Well, that and the subsequent and highly public affair Ryan and Crowe engaged in after the movie wrapped.

"State and Main" (New Line, R, VHS/DVD) - A Hollywood movie crew on a shoestring budget has been bounced out of a New England town and lands in another, even more picturesque one that has not grown jaded of obnoxious stars, bullying production people and inconsiderate moviemakers.

David Mamet wrote this oddly cranky comedy-satire with an impressive ensemble cast. Philip Seymour Hoffman is the neophyte scriptwriter who is learning first-hand the painful pragmatics of getting a movie made. Rebecca Pidgeon is the local girl who becomes his soul mate. William H. Macy is the beleaguered director. Alec Baldwin is the star with a penchant for teen-age girls; in this town that jailbait would be Julia Stiles.

In a case of art preceding life, Sarah Jessica Parker is the starlet who gets religion and refuses to go topless, until a six-figure bonus is waved under her nose. (That scenario is remarkably similar to Halle Berry`s deal for maximum exposure in the current action-thriller "Swordfish.")

"The Pledge" (Warner, R, VHS/DVD) - Sean Penn directs Jack Nicholson, Robin Wright Penn, Benicio Del Toro, Sam Shepard and Mickey Rourke in this explosive thriller. Nicholson is a Nevada cop on the verge of retirement, who is obsessed with finding a killer.

"The Lost Empire" (Artisan/Hallmark, VHS/DVD) - An archaeological dig of ancient Chinese tombs yields more than China scholar Nick Orton (Thomas Gibson of "Dharma and Greg") anticipated.

A young goddess (Bai Ling) sent by the Terracotta Warriors recruits Orton to help rescue a manuscript, which could spell the world`s end if it lands in the wrong hands.

This adventure is based on Cheng-En Wu`s 16th century novel "Journey to the West."

"High Noon" (Artisan, PG-13, VHS/DVD) - Tom Skerritt takes a shot at the character of Sheriff Will Kane, in this television remake of one of the all-time classic westerns. Gary Cooper immortalized the role in the Oscar-winning original.

Kane is about to put the badge and gun aside for a life of domestic tranquility when word arrives that one nasty hombre whom he sent to prison is on the way back for a showdown. The pending gunfight brings out the cowardice in the townspeople.

Also stars Reed Diamond, Maria Conchita Alonso and Michael Madsen.

"Cash Crop" (Artisan, R, VHS/DVD) - Desperate farmers in a remote community of Oxford run afoul of the DEA when they begin growing marijuana as a cash crop to pay their mounting debts. The DEA, of course, turns a troubled situation into a volatile one.

This direct-to-video release stars James Van Der Beek of "Dawson`s Creek," as well as Mary McCormack, Wil Horneff, Jeffrey De Munn and John Slattery. Soundtrack includes music from Lyle Lovett and Wilco.


Making its DVD debut, "Charlotte`s Web" (Paramount, G, $25) - The 1973 animated musical based upon the classic tale by E.B. White. The feature film`s vocal cast included Debbie Reynolds as Charlotte, Henry Gibson as Wilbur, Paul Lynde as Templeton the rat, Agnes Moorehead as a stuttering goose and Rex Allen as the narrator. The Sherman Brothers composed the score.

The Best Foreign Film Oscar-winner of 1971, "The Garden of the Finzi Continis" (Columbia TriStar, R), makes its DVD debut this week. Directed by Vittorio De Sica ("The Bicycle Thief"), the movie documents the rise of Fascism through the Finzi-Continis, an aristocratic Italian family that turns its estate into a refuge for their persecuted friends. Behind the protective walls, the atmosphere is fun, initially, but the frivolity yields to a realization that life as they knew it is gone forever.

On Aug. 28, Richard Attenborough`s epic historic drama "Gandhi," winner of eight Academy Awards, will debut on DVD loaded with extras.


July 17: Comic actors Orlando Jones and Eddie Griffin star in "Double Take."

July 23: Dwight Yoakam directs an impressively cast western "South of Heaven, West of Hell." Among the stars are Vince Vaughn, Billy Bob Thornton, Bridget Fonda, Michael Jeter, Paul Reubens, Bud Cort and Peter Fonda.

Aug. 28: David Spade stars in the cracker comedy "Joe Dirt."

(c) Copley News Service

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Author: Robert J. Hawkins


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