Paramount // 2006 // 90 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // November 3rd, 2006
The best move is...following your heart.
It's been a few months since Sara Johnson (Izabella Miko, The Forsaken) successfully auditioned for Julliard, and the move to New York City has brought about some big chances. First, she seems fine with her mother's recent death. Second, she's in no way sad about leaving her loser dad behind. Third, she's finally dropped first film plot point Derek, since he's gone off to college and med school apparently means more to him than a significant interpersonal relationship. Once she's taken a bite out of the Big Apple, all previous bets are permanently off. Her new roommate, a quirky thespian named Zoe, is a loon. Ballet instructor Madam Monique Delacroix (Jacqueline Bisset, High Season) is a terrifying taskmaster and Introduction to Hip Hop teacher Miles (Columbus Short, Accepted) is a considerable hottie. Eventually, they hook up and he learns that she is serious about her dance. But it's not just classical that calls her. Sara is up for a little downtown booty bouncing whenever she gets the chance. When the opportunity to dance the lead in Giselle is placed before her, Sara must choose. She can either cut out all distractions and become a star, or stay on with Miles and make it in the modern world of performance. Naturally, the decision is complicated with secrets suddenly discovered and situations out of her control. But Sara is strong. She will find her way, making sure to Save the Last Dance for herself.
This direct-to-DVD sequel to the surprise hit of the same name is a lame, lackadaisical film merely going through the motions. It reestablishes the Sara character (sans the man she fought so hard for in the first movie, oddly enough) and then provides a few sloppy counterpoints to keep us confused as to the real purpose behind the production. Dance 2 obviously believes that the whole interracial angle has been done and played out by now, so there is barely a mention of black vs. white, country vs. city, guy vs. gal in the entire tale. No, now the choice is between freedom and focus, the desire to sacrifice for your dreams or the need to have as many possible career options open to you once the reality of your averageness smacks you in the kisser. In Sara's case, she is put in her place by a strident instructor played by none other than Ms. Wet T-Shirt of 1977, Jacqueline Bisset. Then a mystery man, the guest lecturer with the jazzy name -- Miles -- makes a play for her affections.
On one side, Madam Monique Delacroix demands nothing but complete and utter obedience from her students. Get on her bad side and you're banished to "Line 2" or, even worse, the dreaded "Line 3" in her bizarre dancer-prioritizing scheme. Stay on the bottom too long and you're a single plié away from a ticket back home. Miles, on the other hand, offers that still-forbidden white girl fruit -- hip-hop -- and the possibility of a career as a video hoochie. With such subjective choices as those, it's no wonder Sara soon gives into the temptations of both arenas. She pops pills to help with her weight and pains, and she begins collaborating with her man on some new remixes. Hard to tell which vice is worse.
Anyway, since Julia Stiles has gone on to bigger and more baffling things since her 2001 turn as Sara, Coyote Ugly's Izabella Miko takes over and provides a little more legitimacy when it comes to cutting a real rug. Trained as a ballerina both in her former Communist homeland of Poland and at the School of American Ballet, she's no slouch on the dance floor. Sure, her urban moves look like bad interpretative dance ("Look, I'm embodying a clueless Caucasian wannabe!"), but the third act's Giselle piece is quite powerful. Yet the biggest problem with Miko is how un-Sara her Sara is. When the stone-faced Stiles played the part, she seemed to have some street savvy deep down inside her otherwise dour demeanor. Even though she resembled a porcelain doll version of dried cement, she pulled off the "round away girl" groove pretty well. Miko is just all open pie-faced promise. She never once wears the death of her mother, the deadbeat desperation of her father, or the loss of her first love anywhere on her person. She just bops around, constantly curious like a far-too-clever cat, and waits for people to put her in her place. Then she pouts like a kitten and twists up her courage to rise above. It may seem noble, but it's really nonsensical and dull.
Columbus Short's Kanye West-aspirant Miles is equally problematic. He has a past and a precarious connection to Sara's ballet career, but we never fully understand his motivations, his career plan, or his personality quirks. For example, he is someone who has spent his entire life recording the elements and events around him. He has stacks of tapes with, by his own words, over 8,000 hours of sounds captured on them. So what does he pick out in order to impress Sara? Why a two-decade-old snippet of some ice melting. Then, there's the whole Julliard/classical composition issue which is never completely explained. He apparently was a protégé, but then dropped out to do...what, exactly? Compose modern music. Eat cannolis? Hang out at a club watching the cool kids krump? We have no clue. Even when he's begging Sara to stand up for him and what he's trying to accomplish, we keep thinking in the back of our head that if he would simply tell her what he's on about, maybe she'd say "yes." Frankly, Save the Last Dance 2 has no complete characters. Everyone here, from Sara's silly actor roommate to Ms. Bissett, is merely a compilation of melodrama manipulations, pieces of a direct-to-DVD cinematic puzzle that simply have to fall into place before the narrative gets overly knotty. That they barely succeed is the only small pleasure one can gain from this otherwise unnecessary redux.
Though it claims to be set in New York, you'd never know it by TV director David Petrarca's pedestrian techniques. Shots are assembled in the typical MTV style of rapid-fire editing, and no frame extends beyond a middling medium range. We do see Lincoln Center and a baffling white building that looks straight out of Michael Bay's The Island, but as for overall locale, we could really be anywhere. As for the music, it's about as bottom of the barrel as you can get. The so-called street beats sounds like stuff Missy Elliot and Timbaland were doing five years ago. Besides, none of it hangs around enough to make an impression. Paramount may believe they are delivering a big-screen quality transfer with the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image and Dolby Digital 5.1 (and 2.0) mixes, but both technical elements are bare bones and basic. They are about as boob-tube bland as something supposedly cinematic can be.
As part of the DVD presentation, we are also treated to a dull EPK level look at the production, with many of the cast and crew commenting on how "awesome" and "empowering" this movie is. Yeah, right...and Ms. Miko is the next Kate Hepburn. Add in a pair of trailers and you've got a nominal release that completely compliments the quality of the production at hand. In some ways, it's really not Save the Last Dance 2's fault. The material in the first film was barely enough to keep it afloat. To expect it to now do double duty is just plain ridiculous. There was no need to revisit the story -- not in this way, or any way, for that matter.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* "On Their Toes: The Cast and Crew of Save the Last Dance 2"