Film review: Center Stage

Published: Thursday, May 11 2000 3:34 p.m. MDT

All right, everyone, it's time to sing along: " 'Fame.' They'll keep remaking that movie forever. . . . "

"Center Stage" tries to rework — if you can really call a transparent rip-off like this one a "reworking" — that 1980 sleeper hit with little success.

Instead, this clunker of a dance movie is ineptly acted and so predictable and silly that it may prompt more howls of laughter than applause from audiences.

In fact, about the only thing the filmmakers get right is the dancing — which indicates that they should have done away with the storylines altogether; they just get in the way of what could otherwise at least be a watchable film.

Another huge mistake is the casting of professional dancers (re: non-actors) in the major roles. Most of them dance brilliantly but couldn't act if their lives depended on it.

Chief among them is newcomer Amanda Schull, who stars as Jody Sawyer, an aspiring dancer who gets the break of a lifetime when she winds up at the American Ballet Academy in New York City.

When she arrives, the teen is discouraged to find that she's no longer the best dancer in her class and that the desired slots in the American Ballet Company are scarce.

Her chief competitors for those slots include her roommate, Eva (Zoe Saldana), who seems to have a bad attitude about the whole thing, and the conceited but talented Maureen (Susan May Pratt, from "Drive Me Crazy"), who actually longs to have a normal life.

Jody also has to choose between two suitors — fellow student Charlie (Sascha Radetsky) and Cooper (Ethan Steifel), the womanizing choreographer who promises to give her the big break she needs.

Again, the dance performances (choreographed by Susan Stroman and Christopher Wheeldon) are brilliantly performed and well-photographed, and they nearly make the film worthwhile . . . until Schull and the other cast members open their mouths.

It's bad enough that they have to deliver such hilariously bad dialogue as, "You didn't have the feet. I don't have the heart." In addition, the acting performances range from hilariously campy (Saldana and Pratt) to wooden and stoic (Schull and Radetsky).

Of the bunch, the only on who impresses is Steifel — an American Ballet Theatre superstar — though he's not really given enough material to embarrass himself.

Also, director Nicholas Hytner ("The Object of My Affection") and screenwriter Carol Heikkinen ("Empire Records") couldn't make this more predictable if they used a flashing neon sign announcing things before they happen.

"Center Stage" is rated PG-13 for occasional use of strong language (including the so-called "R-rated" curse word), lewd dancing and some crude talk, as well as some particularly revealing ballet outfits. Running time: 113 minutes.

You can reach Jeff Vice by e-mail at jeff@desnews.com