Last Dance

on May 03, 1996 by Wade Major
   Inevitable comparisons to the superior "Dead Man Walking" won't help prospects for Bruce Beresford's "Last Dance," an otherwise serviceable death-row drama featuring a sadly inappropriate Sharon Stone as a condemned woman. Aside from the gender twist, there's little in "Last Dance" that audiences haven't already seen countless times before.
   In fact, the set-up borders embarrassingly on the formulaic. A young slacker lawyer, Rick Hayes ("Quiz Show's" Rob Morrow), gets a token job with the state as a clemency attorney via the political connections of his big brother ("When You Were Sleeping's" Peter Gallagher), who expects him to continue slacking and not rock the boat for the conservative governor ("The Sum of Us'" Jack Thompson). But ethical irregularities in the case of condemned double murderess Cindy Liggett (Stone) awaken Hayes' conscience just in time to do the right thing and, in the process, incur the wrath of the powers that be.
   Unlike "Dead Man Walking," this Touchstone effort focuses more on the legal quagmire surrounding the system of death-row appeals than on the personal stories of the individuals involved, a decision that ultimately undercuts the film's apparent desire to succeed as a humanistic treatise. None of the relationships is particularly interesting or compelling, with the possible exception of that between Hayes and Liggett. But even theirs fails to spark sufficiently to raise the film above the level of an average TV made-for.
   However noble Stone's highly publicized attempt to break away from type, she remains woefully miscast in the role. Simply too attractive and too polished to evoke Liggett's white-trash upbringing, Stone makes laudable efforts that in the end are unsuccessful. Morrow, Randy Quaid (as Hayes' boss) and Gallagher fare somewheat better with their respective characters, although none escapes entirely unscathed.
   Although the film will almost certainly be perceived as yet another black mark on the slumping career of director Beresford ("Rich in Love," "Silent Fall"), the real culprit would appear to be screenwriter/lawyer Ron Koslow ("Into the Night"), whose obvious infatutation with the ins and outs of a tenebrous legal system leaves little room for human beings caught in its muddle. Starring Sharon Stone, Rob Moorow, Randy Quaid and Peter Gallagher. Directed by Bruce Beresford. Written by Ron Koslow. Produced by Steven Haft. A Buena Vista release. Drama. Rated R for violence, language and some drug content. Running time: 108 min
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