Center Stage

Unpromising newcomer Amanda Schull stars as a ballet dancer struggling to come into her own while torn between the affections of smarmy instructor Ethan Stiefel and a hunky, pure-hearted colleague in Center Stage, a youth-oriented drama about the lives and loves of students at a prestigious New York ballet academy. But Schull isn't the only one living a life filled with drama. Leaving few clichés untouched, there's also the bulimic prodigy who begins to question whether ballet is all it's cracked up to be (Susan May Pratt), a life-affirmingly flamboyant gay man, a humorously confounded foreigner, a woman whose love of food matches her love of dance, and a street-smart dancer whose sharp tongue hides her tender heart. All of which makes for too many subplots in a movie with the primary purpose of rushing from one dance sequence to another. Most of these—excepting a tacky finale involving motorcycles, Jamiroquai, and choreography that borders on soft porn—should please dance-hungry moviegoers, as long as they don't mind sitting through the rest of the film. But they should: The young cast can dance, but whether puffing desperately on a menthol or amorously staring across a room, they can't act. At all. The distinctly unappealing Schull, the preening Stiefel, and the glassy-eyed, porcelain-faced Pratt stand out as the worst offenders, but there's not a Moira Shearer or even a White Nights-era Baryshnikov in the lot of them. Of course, they're aided by neither Carol Heikkinen's script—a weird amalgam of '40s backstage melodrama and '80s teen angst by the woman who brought you Empire Records—nor, more surprisingly, Nicholas Hytner's (The Crucible, The Object Of My Affection) indulgent direction. Through it all, an uncomfortable-looking Peter Gallagher looks as if he can't wait for the curtain to fall on the whole thing. Who can blame him?

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