Save the Last Dance

Dance 10, Plot 0

Can a suburban white chick who lives for ballet find love with an inner-city black dude who dances to a hip-hop beat? Can Hollywood find the nerve to drag out yet another update of Romeo and Juliet? The answer to both questions is, You better believe it. The alternative would be fresh thinking, and this co-production by Paramount and MTV Films saved its inspiration for the casting.

Julia Stiles (State and Main) would make a Juliet to die for in any age. As Sara from the Illinois burbs, this dancer with ambitions to attend Juilliard comes to a mostly black high school in Chicago reeling from culture shock, the death of her mother in a car crash and co-existence with her estranged father, Roy (Terry Kinney), a jazz trumpeter who lives in a dump apartment on the South Side.

Sean Patrick Thomas (Cruel Intentions) plays Derek, a hotshot Romeo on the dance floor and catnip to the sisters who admire his ambitions: He dreams of going to medical school and has the grades to make it. His homeys, led by Malakai (Fredro Starr), want him back in the gang life, not teaching dance steps to a white girl. Their romance makes Sara and Derek outcasts. Director Thomas Carter (Swing Kids, Metro) can't sidestep the script's cliches, so he wisely cuts to the fancy footwork whenever possible. It's way obvious that doubles are filling in for the more intricate steps — think Jennifer Beals in Flashdance — but Stiles and Thomas supply what this movie needs most: a heartbeat.

From The Archives Issue 290: May 3, 1979