1996, R, 103 min. Directed by Bruce Beresford. Starring Sharon Stone, Rob Morrow, Randy Quaid, Peter Gallagher, Jack Thompson, Jayne Brook, Pamala Tyson, Skeet Ulrich.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., May 10, 1996
Ever since she exposed Hollywood's dirty little secret about the fast track to stardom when she spread her legs in Basic Instinct and became an overnight success after years of trudging gamely through the ingenue minor leagues, Sharon Stone has had to fight her way back into respectability. For the past year, we've all had front-row seats to the new Sharon Stone campaign to remake her image into that of a serious actress. It began last year when “the filmmakers' filmmaker,” Martin Scorsese, selected her to co-star in Casino as the gangster moll/love interest of not only one but three certifiable thespian heavyweights: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and James Woods. Stone used her win of an Oscar nomination for that role as a public means of proving that it was she who was getting the last laugh. Casino was followed by her co-billing with another acting heavyweight, Isabelle Adjani, in the pointless remake of Diabolique. But now, with Last Dance, Sharon Stone gets to carry a movie on the sheer strength of her abilities and her name recognition. The press, though chilly to the rote death-row storytelling of Last Dance, has generally been treating Stone's performance as one of the revelations of the decade. Review after review praises the movie's display of Stone's “range” and “skill” as an actress and her indisputable physical appeal that manages to transcend this character's lack of make-up and high couture. The incredulous cacophony across the nation cries: “We like you. We really like you.” I'm not here to debunk any of this either -- just the incredulity part. For if we had just a tad more honesty about the smut-associated route Stone took to stardom, then we might have more generosity toward her other capacities. Just because a girl spreads her legs for all the world to see, doesn't mean that she lacks other skills and talents. So let it rest, gang. Sharon Stone, sans makeup, designer clothes, and coquettish dialogue, is very good in Last Dance as a death row murderer on her final appeal. She creates an interesting character who's found redemption in prison and is ready to die but for the ministrations of her clemency lawyer played by Rob Morrow. The movie is structured around his character: It opens with shots of him as he embarks on this new job and closes with thoroughly gratuitous shots of him in India. Although the movie has one truly disturbing scene showing the chemical details and human reality of a capital execution, the rest of Last Dance is filled with jailhouse clichés and improbabilities. Randy Quaid, as usual, does some nice work in a thankless role, but Peter Gallagher and others are relegated to a contrived subplot about the workings of the Governor's office and the reasons why clemency is a political hot potato. Most of all, Last Dance is hurt by its timing which destines it to remain in the shadow of the far superior death-row saga Dead Man Walking. And no matter how good Stone's acting skills become, she's no Sean Penn and never will be.