an interesting side effect of the corporate wooing of the Britney Spears demographic has been the end of the 90210 conceit. Because of child labour laws and the like, it used to be understood that teenagers were best played by people in their mid-20s.
There's still a premium on adult performers who can pass as teens. Alyson Hannigan, for example, who plays Willow on Buffy The Vampire Slayer and was convincing as a high-school band geek in American Pie, is on the far side of 25.
But in casting closer to characters' ages, the people who make these decisions have managed to discover/expose an awful lot of talented actors in the 18-to-22 age range.
Aside from Sarah Polley, Kirsten Dunst and Christina Ricci, who've been acting practically since the cradle, I'm thinking of people like Katie Holmes and Julia Stiles.
Holmes, a Dawson's Creek alumna, has broken small in features like Go (with Polley) and Wonder Boys.
Stiles, still a teen movie specialist -- but with supporting roles in non-teen movies, including Harrison Ford's daughter in The Devil's Own -- was looking like the next big break out.
This was speculation based on her panache in oddball adaptations of Shakespeare.
As Cat in 10 Things I Hate About You, the teen version of The Taming Of The Shrew, she was the centrepiece of a very sharp and funny movie. She had an intriguing, timorous angst as Ophelia to Ethan Hawke's slacker Hamlet. Later this year she'll be seen as Desdemona in O, a teen version of Othello.
Her newest starring vehicle, Save The Last Dance, will not send her into the stratosphere.
She plays an aspiring ballerina in a small Illinois town who's forced to relocate to the south side of Chicago and live with her father, a down-and-out jazz musician, when her mother dies in a car accident.
This is when the adult mind takes over and starts asking questions. If she were auditioning for Juilliard and about to go off and live in New York on her own, wouldn't she be old enough to apply for emancipated-minor status?
What happened to the furniture in her mother's house? Indeed, what happened to the house?
She shows up for her first day of school at her all-black high school and meets the locals, who invite her to a dance club. There, we discover that she suffers from an extreme case of white hips. Which is odd, because Stiles dances in most of her starring roles -- she does a slow shimmy while lip-synching to Al Green's Let's Stay Together in Down To You, and her drunken turn atop a dining-room table in 10 Things is the most memorably physical moment in a highly verbal film.
She needs to learn how to shake that thing from her new guy, who has a dark past. Think Dirty Dancing.
Then she decides she still wants to go to Juilliard, and integrates some funky new moves into her audition. Think Flashdance. But without the strip club. Or the welding.
This is a first-produced-screenplay for writers Duane Adler and Cheryl Edwards, but they are, in their startling lack of originality, well on their way to being old commercial hacks.
Director Thomas Carter has spent most of his two-decade career in television, largely without distinction. His biggest features before this were Swing Kids, Disney's homage to jitterbugging kids fighting Nazi oppression, and Metro, a paint-by-numbers Eddie Murphy vehicle
The problem with hacks is that they think in cliches, which they feed in mass quantities to new generations of teenagers.
Save The Last Dance is a movie without a single original idea.SAVE THE LAST DANCE directed by Thomas Carter, written by Duane Adler and Cheryl Edwards, produced by Robert W. Cort and David Madden, with Julia Stiles, Sean Patrick Thomas, Kerry Washington and Terry Kinney. 107 minutes. An MTV production. A Paramount release. Opens Friday (January 12). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 66. Rating: NN