The idea of Hollywood’s favorite femme fatale dressing down to play an unglamorous inmate on death row may seem faintly ludicrous, but, to her credit, Sharon Stone pulls it off. She is not the problem. The problem with Last Dance is that it follows in the footsteps of Dead Man Walking, a death row drama that is vastly superior. And the superficial resemblance between the films is so striking that it is impossible not to compare them at every turn, which makes the deficiencies of Last Dance painfully apparent.
Cindy (Stone), a rehabilitated killer, is finally facing death by lethal injection after
years of appealing her conviction in a grisly double murder. Rick (Rob Morrow from TV’s Northern Exposure) is the rookie government lawyer assigned to handle her clemency case. Rick faces resistance both from his cynical superiors, who are determined to see Cindy executed, and from Cindy herself, who is resigned to her fate.
As a Porsche-driving prodigal son who becomes a crusading idealist, Morrow makes an unprepossessing hero. And his heroics seem beside the point. Like Dead Man Walking, Last Dance tries to address the issue of capital punishment. But despite the sensitive direction of Bruce
Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy), the script keeps reverting to formula devices— half-baked hints of government conspiracy, a girlfriend subplot that goes nowhere, and a suspense countdown wired to a trick ending.
Stone is convincing, and her character seems more sympathetic than the unsavory lout played by Sean Penn in Dead Man Walking. But she arouses less empathy, because there is no profound moral conflict tearing her up. By dwelling on the unfairness of her trial, Last Dance sidesteps the heart of the capital-punishment issue and becomes just another tale of justice denied—a movie going through the motions.
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