Opens: May 3, 1996 | Rated: R
Yes, "Last Dance" is essentially "Dead Woman Walking."
This is a large enough obstacle for the film to overcome, but it's also burdened by entirely one-dimensional dialogue that, despite honest performances from Sharon Stone and Rob Morrow, sinks what could have been a moving and fascinating movie.
"Last Dance" is book-ended by a creative, grainy title sequence and a powerful, emotionally wrenching finale, but nearly everything in between is so shallow even soap opera writers would likely run it through the Smith-Carona one more time.
Stone plays Cindy Liggett, a death row inmate whose time has come. As in "Dead Man Walking," there is no doubt she's guilty, but here the killer isn't seeking redemtion. Instead the crime is weakly pinned on a crack-induced rage. She wouldn't have done it had she not been high.
Hardly a sympathy point, but it is grounds for a final appeal, which is where Rick Hayes (Morrow) comes in. A rookie attorney and brother of a highly placed public official (Peter Gallagher), he is handed a cushy job in the public defender's office and assigned to mop up the Liggett case before she's executed.
After finding drug evidence not presented in her case, Hayes begins to lobby for clemency, going as far as to make a scene at a party for the hard-nosed governor.
He fails to convince, of course, but with the lines Morrow is given (by writer Ron Koslow, who has few forgettable credits like 1985's "Into the Night") it's hard to tell if he's supposed to be nervous and unsure of himself or a skilled litigator who just chose to argue with the wrong guy.
Stone and Morrow do their best with what they have to work with. They bring their characters' body language, emotions, experiences, motivations and frustrations alive. But their conversations are flat enough that "Last Dance" feels like a silent movie -- everything we learn about these two people comes physically, not verbally.
In a hurry to establish other aspects of the primary's lives, the script throws in a wake-up-next-to-her-in-one-scene girlfriend for Rick and gives Cindy a tattoo to show she's tough and a throw-away line slamming TV talk shows so we know she's intelligent.
The hurry-up approach is how "Last Dance" handles several usually probing story elements.
Nothing is given to establish the tenderness the characters begin to share (I suspect a romance was, wisely, edited out). Every attempt at sympathy falls apart, from the appeal thrust on the Governor to the laughable knocking of plastic cups on prison bars as the inmates watch Liggett lead away to her execution.
Even the extremely effective flashbacks of the murder, showing only the victim's bloody arm rocking violently with the thrusts of a knife, are poorly placed.
It's a pity. "Last Dance" is heavy with potential and could have been a sympathetic, thoughtful story. But because of flat writing it's really nothing more than another respectability vehicle for Sharon Stone.
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