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Save the Last Dance

reviewed by Lynn Barker

Ballet and hip-hop, Black and White, inner city and small town all merge in this gritty, romantic dance drama that has it all "goin' on". "Save the Last Dance" is about two people and two cultures dancing around each other until they can reach some kind of "comfort zone" that allows everyone to thrive.

Small town, white, middle-class SARA JOHNSON (Julia Stiles) dreams of devoting her life to ballet and attending school at Julliard until a personal tragedy makes her decide never to dance again. Her mother's death forces her to move to inner city Chicago to live with her club musician dad, ROY (Terry Kinney) and attend an almost all black high school where she struggles to fit in. Sara is befriended by CHENILLE (Kerry Washington) a black, unwed teenage mother who helps her fit in.

At first, Sara doesn't like smart and somewhat cocky DEREK (Sean Patrick Thomas) but learns that they both love dance, although his choice is hip-hop. Derek shows her some moves and dancing leads to romancing. At first, Sara's dad doesn't accept her hooking up with Derek. Chenille's friends, especially Derek's ex-g.f. NIKKI (Bianca Lawson), hate the idea of a white girl moving in on one of the most desirable guys in school. Derek's boyhood friend, a gang-banger named MALAKAI (Fredro Starr), sees Derek, who is headed for Georgetown University, being pulled away from him. All the controversy almost destroys the young couple's relationship.

When Sara plans to try out for Julliard for a second time and Malakai asks Derek to "watch his back" against some rival, drive-by shooters, the culture clash is almost too much for the young lovers to survive.

"Save the Last Dance" is a 21st century version of all those cool '70's and '80's dance movies like "Saturday Night Fever", "Dirty Dancing", Urban Cowboy", "Footloose" and "Flashdance". It's great to see this tried and true combination of dance and troubled romance come back to the screen. The added element of inter-racial and inter-cultural conflict only makes the story more interesting. It's also gratifying to see that the Sara character isn't snobbish or afraid of her new inner-city surroundings. She's just intimidated because all these kids are so much "cooler" than she is.

The contrast between gang banger Malakai's "shooter" lifestyle and Derek's upstanding, bound-for-college path is laid on a little thickly but the focus is on the Romeo-Juliet romance and Stiles and Thomas are great together. Supporting actors are really believable too; especially Kerry Washington as struggling single mom Chenille and rap artist Fredro Starr as Malakai. Choreography by Fatima (hip-hop) and Randy Duncan (ballet) deserves a nod. This movie has a slammin' soundtrack.

Rated PG-13 Opens January 12

Directed by: Thomas Carter ("Swing Kids")
Screenplay by: Duane Adler and Cheryl Edwards from a story by Adler Starring: Julia Stiles as Sara Johnson
Sean Patrick Thomas as Derek
Kerry Washington as Chenille
Fredro Starr as Malakai
Bianca Lawson as Nikki

Official website www.savethelastdance.com

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