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'Last Dance': Hip-Hop Love

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 12, 2001


    'Save the Last Dance' From right: Julia Stiles and D.C. native Sean Patrick Thomas star in "Save the Last Dance."
"Save the Last Dance" takes its cues from the musical dramas of the '70s, but this otherwise engaging young-adult romance never quite catches Saturday night fever. Then again, it's far from tepid teen fare, thanks largely to the sweet chemistry between up-and-comer Sean Patrick Thomas and leading lady Julia Stiles.

Stiles ("10 Things I Hate About You") plays Sara, a small-town ballerina who discovers her inner booty when she transfers to an urban high school after her mother's death in a car crash. Her mom had been on the way to watch her daughter dance, and the grieving, guilt-stricken teen hangs up her toe shoes and abandons her dream of attending Juilliard. After the funeral, she is obliged to move in with her estranged father (Terry Kinney), a struggling musician with a seedy flat on Chicago's South Side.

Sara, one of a handful of white students at the school, is befriended by Chenille (Kerry Washington) and her brother, Derek (Thomas), the John Travolta of the local hip-hop scene. Chenille and Derek soon have the middle-class Sara doing her thang in fashionably baggy, floor-dragging jeans. Along the way, Derek and Sara fall in love. A clash of cultures ensues.

Thomas (CBS's "The District"), with his gleaming smile, warm manner and dashing good looks, is definitely on the Denzel track. He's also careful to avoid the streetwise behavior so often inherent in roles created for young black men. He and the far-from-lithe Stiles clearly aren't professional dancers, and the choreography doesn't disguise their shortcomings. But they remain a convincing, appealing twosome.

Three-time Emmy winner Thomas Carter ("Swing Kids") directs from a rambling script by Cheryl Edwards and Marylander Duane Adler. The latter's screenplay originally dealt with the experiences of the only white player on a high school basketball squad. You can be sure Adler knows from development hell, and we feel his pain.

Save the Last Dance (113 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for some violence, dirty dancing and swear words.


Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company

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