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SAVE THE LAST DANCE

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Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Julia Stiles, Sean Patrick Thomas, Terry Kinney, Fredro Starr
Director: Thomas Carter
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 112 Minutes
Release Date: June 19, 2001

Film ***

I find myself in that always difficult realm known as the mixed reaction to a movie, which in this case is the romantic drama Save the Last Dance. It isn’t entirely satisfactory, but it is energetic, well performed and at times very moving. Perhaps the main reason it isn’t a masterpiece is the fact that the story presented to us is formulaic in nearly every scene, and the movie also throws in a series of subplots that don’t feel very necessary. Thankfully, the lead actors give it their best to save this movie from being a much worse movie.

The movie begins on a tragic note as Sara Johnson (Julia Stiles) grieves at the sudden loss of her mother, due to a car accident. Sara’s specific goal in life was to become a ballet dancer, and because her mom’s death occurred while she was attempting to catch Sara’s big audition for the Julliard school, which was unsuccessful, Sara gives up that dream completely as she tries to start her life over. She then moves to live with her estranged father (Terry Kinney) in a not too subtle ghetto in Chicago. The high school where she now goes to is predominantly black, but which doesn’t seem to bother her at all. She actually makes a couple of new friends on her first day, most notably Chenille (Kerry Washington), who tutors Sara on who she should and should not hang out with. She also comes across the witty and smart Derek (Sean Patrick Thomas), who is the first to notice Sara’s knack for dancing, and decides to give her one on one lessons. Of course, the relationship grows to something more.

Then numerous complication arise, not simply from the illusion of the Sara and Derek’s attraction for one another, but from both of their personal lives. Derek, one of the best students in his school, has been accepted to Georgetown and wants to become a doctor. At the same time, his loyalties including that of street thug Malakai (Fredro Starr) are putting consistent pressure on him to remember who he truly is in life, and where his decisions and priorities belong. Derek vows to not let the street life get to him, but somewhat owes the favor to Malakai, who saved his life once before. Sara gets some vicious competition from a skanky girl who played Derek in the past, and yet is disgusted to see him together with a girl of another race. I did appreciate the mature way the movie handles the notion of racially mixed relationships, which could’ve been easily preached.

If there is a reason to see this movie, it’s the performances of Julia Stiles and Sean Patrick Thomas, who spark a convincing sense of chemistry and realism in their characters. They are able to take dialogue that we’ve all heard before in countless movies and make it sound as if we haven’t heard it before. They are simply that good. And in the end you do want them to be together. Derek is the first person to tell Sara that it isn’t too late to achieve the dream she once had, which of course means a lot to her, even if she denies it at first.

As I said, I am sort of in the mix on Save the Last Dance. Even though it isn’t new to me, the performances, the music, and the overall uplifting story make for nice two hours to spare. In the end, I can give the film an easy recommendation.

Video ****

Another winning disc from Paramount! This superb anamorphic transfer is perfect in every way. Consistently sharp, avoided of any soft imaging, grain, or bad color resolution. The colors are vibrant to the best extent. Scenes in dance clubs really stand out, as different colors blend together to create a charging impact to go along with the music of the movie. Absolutely outstanding!

Audio ***1/2

This area really surprised me, and it shows just how much DVD can do with a movie about music. It isn’t a musical, but a lot of music is played in the movie, and the 5.1 presentation makes terrific use for these scenes. A very impressive, dynamic and very surprising audio job!

Features ***1/2

Paramount offers up a genuinely nice array of extras for Save the Last Dance, including a commentary from director Thomas Carter, two behind the scenes documentaries, a deleted scenes compilation, a trailer, and a music video for K-Ci & JoJo’s song “Crazy”.

Summary:

Save the Last Dance in the end is a feel-good movie that distracts occasionally subplot wise, but makes up for it with strong performances, which help to make it an energetic, upbeat entertainment worth your time.