Solid performances save `Save the Last Dance'

Movie reviews

January 12, 2001

"Save the Last Dance" ** 1/2 PG-13; (violence, sex, language)

Blond, beautiful and a wiz at ballet, Sara (Julia Stiles) seemed to have it all until her mother is killed in a car crash while hurrying to Sara's audition for the Joffrey Ballet. Depressed, demoralized and convinced she's responsible for her mom's death, Sara gives up ballet and moves in with her dad, a jazz musician living in a poor section of Chicago.

There she meets Derek (Sean Patrick Thomas), handsome, sure of himself and a heck of a dancer, although hip-hop is more his style than ballet. The two strike up a grudging friendship that blossoms into something more - to the consternation of Derek's friends, who don't think the archetypically gifted black youth should turn to a white girl for love.

To its credit, this film doesn't paint Sara's move to the inner city as a descent into hell. Instead, it's just a different environment, one she manages to enter without genuine threat to life and limb. Most films would demand at least one scene where Sara breaks down and cries at the injustice of being thrown into such a dangerous place Here, she adapts without undue histrionics.

"Save the Last Dance" chronicles these two teen-agers as they struggle to build a relationship. And while the film exhibits its share of cliches - does every kid dream of being a dancer? - the relationship between Sara and Derek rings true, thanks largely to Stiles' controlled performance, and Thomas' unchecked exuberance.

- Chris Kaltenbach

"Antitrust" *; PG-13(violence, language)

"Antitrust" lost me at the hamster.

Ryan Phillippe, as computer whiz Milo Hoffman, is trying to prove that his boss (Tim Robbins as Bill Gates stand-in Gary Winston) is a murderous evil-doer intent on monopolizing the computer industry. Milo has broken into the company's office after hours to download secret information when a sudden sound makes him (and the audience) jump.

Turns out it's just a hamster running on his exercise wheel. "Whew," thinks a relieved Milo. "Sheesh," thinks this disgruntled critic, who's had about enough cheap cinematic goosings to last a lifetime.

Then again, there's not a whole lot about "Antitrust" that exists for any valid dramatic reason, or makes much sense until the very end. For instance, if Milo is such a computer whiz that he's single-handedly expected to save the company from financial ruin, why is he given stolen software to help him along? What is it about co-worker Lisa Callaghan (a doe-eyed Rachael Leigh Cook) that makes Milo trust her? What is Claire Forlani, as Milo's artist girlfriend, even doing in this picture, besides standing in the background?

And how could this piece of unintentional self-parody be the work of director Peter Howitt, who was also responsible for the inventive, unforced pleasures of "Sliding Doors"?

- Chris Kaltenbach

"Double Take" ** 1/2 ; PG-13 (violence, profanity)

"Double Take" is a mistaken-identity comedy that erupts into multiple-personality disorderliness. Given the deadpan of Orlando Jones and the "livewiriness" of his co-star Eddie Griffin in a breakout role, this is frequently funnier than it has any right to be.

When New York investment banker Daryl Chase (Jones) has the bad luck to pick up a gun at a murder scene, he is mistaken for a hitman and flees to Mexico after trading identities with street hustler Freddie Tiffany (Griffin).

Does a Harvard-educated banker possess the street cred and smarts to shed the pinstripes and roll with his peeps?

The extent to which the film succeeds depends on whether you find this funny.

The plot twists turn to the greater advantage of Griffin's character. Not since Eddie Murphy in "48 Hours" has a comic sprung off the screen like this bantam motormouth, best known as Eddie in UPN's "Malcolm & Eddie."

Ultimately Gallo's film elevates the routine mismatched-partner comedy into social satire. It's at its best when lampooning those who judge a black man by the fiber content of the clothes he wears rather than by the content of his character.

Knight Ridder/Tribune

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