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The buzz was so bad on Last Dance that the Dead Girl Walking jokes were flying fast and frenzied. I am pleased to report that Sharon Stone has nothing to be embarrassed about. It wasn't that awful.
Then again, I suspect that director Bruce Beresford did not intend to make the audience laugh with his final scene. But they did.
As it is known to happen in Hollywood, sometimes two different creative teams set to work on exceptionally similar ideas. There were two movies that preceded Big, both with the same idea of a grownup and a child swapping bodies. Edward James Olmos made a film called American Me, whose basic story was the cornerstone of Taylor Hackford's Bound By Honor: Blood In, Blood Out. One film succeeds, the others bomb.
As bothered as I was by Dead Man Walking, at least in that film something reached out and started mangling my gut. No such luck with Last Dance.
You have to connect with the characters on screen, at some level, to make this kind of story work. In DMW, whether or not you felt that the nun fell for the con, you cannot deny that there was a visceral link between the two. You could not overlook the fact that Sean Penn's convict, coming to grips with the severity of his crime, peeled emotionally like a cooked egg. And though I do not make comparisons to source material, Last Dance is not based on DMW, so bombs away . . .
Stone's character has been on death row for 12 years, following a pair of crack-induced murders: vicious, brutal murders of two teenage lovers. She doesn't even want to fight the sentence anymore, but state law requires a review by a clemency board. Enter Rob Morrow as the new lawyer on the block. Morrow's brother is the governor's chief of staff, and he pulled strings to get the kid a break. The kid drives a Porsche. Has a stupid haircut. Wasn't all that upstanding as a lawyer in the past. And before you know it, he develops strong, um, feelings for the convict. Why does he feel this way? Where do his emotions spring from? Hell if I know. But he fights like a hellcat, perhaps I should say overemotionalizes (in layman's terms, "overacts"), to save her life. The battle continues up to the end of the movie, which I won't reveal, just in case you actually sit through this thing. It's not a hard thing to sit through, it's just not a great way to waste your time.
I'm not fully sure if the problem is solely a bad performance on Morrow's part, or a valiant effort to make something of a bad script -- and the script is a bad one. Big death scenes should not make an audience laugh, but they did. The final scene (which I will not describe) should not make the audience keel over, but it did.
Across the board, whether from Stone, Morrow, or Peter Gallagher (playing Morrow's brother), the performances were not entrancing. The supporting characters are all stereotypical -- the southern governor up for reelection; the minority death row inmate convinced that the "white girl" is going to be the one who gets off; the bureaucrat who's seen these cases come and go, always the same way.
That would be Randy Quaid, who begins as a stereotype and is the sole member of the cast to develop into a full-bodied character. But it isn't enough, and frankly, my dears, I didn't give a damn. It's not worth very much to watch an accent in search of an emotional cacophony, which is a simple way to describe Sharon Stone's performance.
Was there potential? Surprise, yes. The trailer contains a line which, having seen the trailer 4 times, ALWAYS made the viewing audience groan. You may see it in the commercial. Stone angrily yelps, "If ahm gonna die it's gonna be on mah terms." Darn thing is, in context the line makes perfect sense and is properly delivered. But a good moment isn't good enough. Watching two characters try to interact when there's no way that they can is an incredibly difficult thing. It is an incredibly difficult job for actors to pull off, to make the audience care or be touched. It didn't happen here.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for Last Dance, he would have paid . . .
Not a great idea for a rental, unless you feel like talking back at the screen. Which is what some members of the audience I sat with started to do. Not many, but enough that I noticed. The average reaction, based on the folk that I spoke to afterwards, was a shrug of the shoulders and a "Not much" answer to the question "What did you think?"
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