In “Ballet Company 90210” — I’m sorry, I mean “Center Stage” — we’re treated to what “Fame” would have been if it had been a poorly acted soap opera.
The setting is the American Ballet Academy, a training ground for would-be dancers. Their collective dream, we assume, is to dance for a living. Their individual hopes and dreams are mostly ignored.
Focusing on the women in the academy, we get boyfriends, breakups and bulimia — your basic soap opera fare — all melodramatically acted by people who are absolutely fantastic dancers, but mostly terrible actors. (Strangely, Peter Gallagher — so good as “The King” in “American Beauty” — is perhaps more over-the-top than anyone, and he’s not even a dancer. At least the dancers who are forced to act have an excuse.)
Jody Sawyer (Amanda Schull) is the main character, mostly by default: She has the most screen time, but the least personality. She falls for ballet stud Cooper Nielsen (Ethan Stiefel), who sleeps with her, casts her in his ballet, then dumps her, at which point she rushes to the also-bland Charlie (Sascha Radetsky) and falls in a bland sort of love with him.
Meanwhile, there’s Eva (Zoe Saldana), a renegade who plays by her own rules (i.e., she breaks all the academy’s rules). As such, she is unlikely to make the cut — unless she can get just one chance to show everyone how good she is. Will she get that chance? You’ll be on the edge of your seat!
Also meanwhile, Barbie-thin Maureen (Susan May Pratt) is realizing that dancing is her mother’s dream, not hers, and to prove the point, she’s gone bulimic. Her dominating mother (Debra Monk) is upset to learn that she won’t be able to live her dream vicariously through her daughter after all: “You didn’t have the feet,” Maureen tells her. “And I don’t have the heart.”
That’s actually some of the better dialogue in “Center Stage,” a movie that invites you to predict what will be said next (you’ll usually be right, and you’d probably do a better job delivering the line, too).
The idea here was probably to show us all the ins and outs of a dance school: the rivalries, the hard work, the triumphs, the defeats, the bloody toes, etc. There are a good many characters, of which only Maureen’s mother is at all believable (Debra Monk is an Emmy-winning actress; the others here are all pretty much either professional dancers making their motion picture debuts, or hack actors).
Another problem is that many scenes go on for waaaay too long. A scene of Cooper and someone doing “Romeo & Juliet”; a scene where a bunch of students go to a nightclub for fun; the final scene, where Cooper’s ballet is staged; all of these are worthy of being included, but do not deserve nearly the amount of time they get.
Cooper’s ballet, an avant-garde, genre-twisting affair, is actually kind of cool (until you realize it’s apparently NEVER GOING TO END). It takes traditional ballet and puts a fresh spin on it. “Center Stage,” unfortunately, takes traditional ensemble movies about would-be performers and does absolutely nothing new whatsoever. If you’ve ever seen a movie in which the characters had a goal, you’ve heard every line of dialogue here. In fact, you’ve seen the whole movie. See something else instead, unless you want to watch this one purely for its dancing.
C- (; )