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Save the Last Dance

With the resurgence of John Hughes-like teen films in the late 20th century (as if Some Kind of Wonderful was some kind of masterpiece), it's surprising that someone didn't figure out the premise of 2001's Save the Last Dance sooner — it's an urban Flashdance with interracial romance. And once you've heard this one-sentence pitch, watching the film itself seems merely perfunctory. After the death of her mother, Sara Johnson (Julia Stiles) moves from a small town to a rough Chicago neighborhood to live with her musician father (Terry Kinney) so she can finish high school. Because her mom died in an auto accident while trying to get to Sara's biggest ballet tryout (that Sara selfishly insisted her mom come to), our heroine's dream of becoming a ballet dancer has been extinguished, and she's sworn she'll never, ever, ever, ever take up ballet again. Sara makes fast friends at her new school with Chenille (Kerry Washington) and Chenille's tough-but-lovable brother Derek (Sean Patrick Thomas), who Sara fights with at first. But their attraction builds as the two go out dancing and soon after become involved — to the protest of most of their friends. Derek tells Sara to chase her dreams (of course) and helps her get her groove back, leading to a climatic ballet audition. Something of a surprise hit on its release, the formulaic Save the Last Dance offers an earnest, irony-free view of the world along with a Rocky-fied "down but not out" survival yarn. But for a film with the word Dance in its title, the dance numbers themselves — perhaps to save the actors some embarrassment — are cut too fast to really let the groove sink in. That said, there are good things to be found here, as Stiles and Thomas are attractive leads with star charisma, while director Thomas Carter keeps their interracial love story and inner-city setting realistic, grounding the film more than most teen-romance pictures. Sadly, Save the Last Dance is half of an interesting movie — the first hour keeps the budding relationship at an interesting pitch, but it subsequently falls apart shortly thereafter when the couple's tensions force them apart (when they need each other most), and the film's fresh qualities soon turn shopworn and stale. Paramount's DVD release comes in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and audio in Dolby Digital 5.1. Features include an audio commentary, four deleted scenes, the music video "Crazy" by K-Ci & Jojo, a "making-of" featurette, cast and crew interviews, and the theatrical trailer. Keep-case.

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