The trials and tribulations of dance students at New York's American Ballet School over the course of a year, with the main focus on bright young hopeful Jody. Heartbreak, starstruck parents, bulimia and injuries all rear their heads en route to the dance-packed finale which will determine the future careers of all the would-be ballet stars.
As if further proof were needed, a month after Billy Elliot and Dancer In The Dark were released, that the dance movie - a genre you optimistically hoped had died along with the '80s - was set for a major revival, here's yet another film whose story revolves around many twinkle-toed talents.
However, Center Stage's more traditional approach to its subject matter leaves it squarely in the realms of danceflick cliche. Not since the heady days of Fame (1980) and Flashdance (1983) has any film tackled the cut-throat world of moving and grooving in quite such an achingly predictable and frankly silly fashion. What is unexpected is how damned entertaining it all is.
From the off, no melodramatic scenario is left uncharted, with the characters lining up to take their place in the triumph-over-adversity stakes. There's sweet young thing Jody (Schull), blessed with a pair of left feet; her hot-headed room-mate Eva (Saldana), whose rebelliousness belies genuine ability; bitchy headcase Maureen (Pratt), whose overbearing mom and lettuce fixation scream eating disorder; and professional dancer Cooper (Stiefel) who entices the naive Jody into his penthouse long before he pays any real attention to her pliés. Meanwhile, Gallagher's fabulously megalomaniac ballet impresario merely adds to the fun, playing the material with his tongue wedged firmly in his cheek.
While it's hard to believe that this prime bit of cinematic soap opera comes from the same director behind The Madness Of King George (1994) and The Crucible (1996), it actually benefits from Hytner's obvious talents. For all its silliness, it's slickly made, and is packed with spirited choreography which happily blends its ballet with salsa, jazz and contemporary forms of dance. Cynics will of course dismiss its ropey script and sub-Oscar-worthy acting as a load of old guff, but by the time the frug-filled finale arrives, it's impossible not to be swept along by the film's relentless energy.
In its own way, Center Stage is terrible, yet it's such fun that its clichés and unintentional hilarity cease to matter after a while. Unlikely to win converts to dance movies, it's still one of those good-natured films you'll end up liking.