Before the debut of their new movie at Houston’s 36th Worldfest Film Festival, husband-and-wife team Patrick Swayze and writer/director Lisa Niemi described how bringing the picture to the screen was a “labor of love.” The resulting effort, “One Last Dance,” apparently took years to make the transition from idea to stage production to screenplay to screen. After seeing it I wondered why, during all those years, nobody stepped in like a referee at a boxing match and stopped them from doing any more damage.
Travis (Swayze), Chrissa (Niemi), and Max (George De La Pena) are all former members of Alex McGrath’s dance company. After Alex’s death, the three reunite to bring to life the production they were working on when they decided, for varying reasons, to leave the company seven years ago. Tears are spilled, secrets are divulged, and everybody dance-dance-dances the night away.
Boy, do they dance.
The principals have all gone their separate ways. Travis owns several fitness centers, Max gives seminars at schools, and Chrissa…performs in a vaudeville show. When we first see her, I could’ve sworn she was in a strip club, but then out came the knife thrower. The fact that such places still exist seems far-fetched, but the gig must pay pretty well given the size of Chrissa’s massive high-rise apartment.
The three ex-dancers are all well into their forties. Making an improbable decision, Travis convinces them they need to work on their basics and join and “adult beginners” class. The teacher is the diametric opposite of Alex: he’s warm and supportive, and he encourages everyone to find the “heart” in their dancing. Travis and Chrissa have what I suppose is a history, although it takes so long for them to get around to talking about it you can hardly summon up the strength to care. And while it’s obvious that Niemi feels passionately about what motivated her to become a dancer in real life, we got it after about the fourth soliloquy on the transcendent nature of dance. Really.
There’s angst: Chrissa had a breakdown after being pushed too hard by Alex (truthfully, she looks close to a breakdown during most of the movie), Travis decided he couldn’t go on after Chrissa left the company, and Max has abandonment issues with the other two. So throw together some freshman psych level analysis, brooding shots of the characters against the New York City skyline, and several dance numbers and bake for 113 minutes. At least, they said it was 113 minutes. I felt like I was in one of those alternate dimensions where time has no meaning.
Will the three ever overcome their petty vindictiveness and neuroses and join together for one…last…dance? Oh, that would be telling.
Okay, it isn’t all bad. The dancing, at least, is very impressive. My suspicion is that if a major studio decides to give “One Last Dance” a distribution deal, they’re going to excise some of the dance sequences in the interests of leaner running time. This would be a huge mistake, because if anything, there should be more dancing. Swayze and company are all obviously talented hoofers, and watching them on screen is almost enough to forget the earnestly exaggerated acting and incredible dialogue – Chrissa: “It’s a living.” Max: “Is it? Is it living?” Or then there’s Chrissa: “Where’s there’s ego, I go.” I waited eagerly for Travis to tell Alex at some point, “Nobody puts Chrissa in a corner!”
On the up side, maybe after “One Last Dance” tanks we can finally get that “Steel Dawn” sequel we’ve all been waiting for.