Center Stage (PG-13) No Rating

Review Date: May 11th, 2000

How often have you asked yourself, "Why don't they make more movies like 'Fame'?" "Center Stage" fulfills that pent-up desire. As sunny and earnest as a Pepsi commercial, it follows a young ballet dancer and her friends as they study at a rigorous dance academy. Early on, we learn the students must vie for precious few spots in professional dance companies after graduation. But this is the kind of flick with happy, suitable outcomes for all the characters we care about, so there's little risk of disillusionment.

Acting

It's evident that the filmmakers made an effort to find real dancers, not just actors. There are a few cringe-worthy moments, but the dancing is so skilled and beautiful, you can forgive the young cast its greenness. Jennie Garth look-alike Amanda Schull tries her best as the main character, Jodi Sawyer, but lacks that spark that, as one character says, means you can't take your eyes off her. The opposite is true of Ethan Stiefel, who plays the company's hotshot lead dancer. He does leaps and things with his legs in the air that make you gasp.

Story

You know as soon as you see those fresh, hopeful faces that good things will happen to them. With that tension gone, the plot needs to do little more than keep you entertained until the next great dance scene. There are story lines, like Maureen, the top student who becomes bulimic under her stage mother's pressure and the need to maintain the "right body shape." But Maureen is so wistful, and her med-student boyfriend so handsome and supportive, that you can't work up any real worry for her.

Direction

Nicholas Hytner knows the story's strengths and limitations, and delivers exactly what the film should. The dance numbers are varied and detailed enough to satisfy true dance fans, and may even inspire new ones. The year at the ballet academy passes at a sprightly pace, alternating between rigorous dance classes and student forays into the gently depicted streets of New York.

Of Note

Wendy Wasserstein, who wrote "The Heidi Chronicles," is listed as one of the writers, which may account for the sureness of the script. Also listed is Susannah Grant, who wrote "28 Days" and "Erin Brockovich."

Bottom Line

Okay, so it's not as gritty as "Fame," and it lacks that memorable soundtrack. But you'll still want to sign up for a dance class -- or at least date a dancer -- when "Center Stage" is over.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Starring Peter Gallagher, Donna Murphy, Susan May Pratt, Amanda Schull and Ilia Kulik.

Directed by Nicholas Hytner. Produced by Laurence Mark and Caroline Baron. Screenplay by Wendy Wasserstein, Carol Heikkinen and Susannah Grant. Released by Columbia Pictures.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------