[Screen It]

(2003) (Neve Campbell, Malcolm McDowell) (PG-13)

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Drama: Various dancers go through the day to day rigors of preparing for shows with the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago.
Loretta "Ry" Ryan (NEVE CAMPBELL) is an aspiring dancer with the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago. When the lead dancers, Maia (MAIA WILKINS) and Alec (DAVIS ROBERTSON), must step back due to injury, Ry and her partner, Domingo (DOMINGO RUBIO) are given the leads.

Under the watchful eye of director Alberto Antonelli (MALCOLM McDOWELL), they and the rest of the various dancers - including veteran performer Harriet (BARBARA ROBERTSON) --go through rigorous, day to day preparations for various upcoming performances. At the same time, Ry starts seeing Josh (JAMES FRANCO), a local chef, and the two soon become lovers.

With a big and expensive performance just around the corner, Ry tries to balance her personal, familial and professional lives, all while the other dancers hope to make the grade.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Most every profession known to man and woman has been portrayed in the movies. Certain occupations, however, are better at lending themselves to the screen than others. While there are exceptions to the contrary, films showing cops and firemen at work are easier to make than those where writers or accountants are center stage.

In "The Company," the main characters are dancers in the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago. As film is obviously a visual medium, such people and their practicing and performances are obviously well-suited for the part. As was the case in other "dance" films such as "All That Jazz," "Saturday Night Fever" and even "Dirty Dancing," there's plenty of eye candy, with the actors and real-life dancers of the renowned ballet company performing some visually splendid numbers.

Yet, visuals will only take a film so far, and the scarcity of drama is where this picture comes up lacking. In short, there simply isn't enough story to support the rest of the effort. All of which is rather surprising considering that it comes from Robert Altman, the director of acclaimed films such as "Gosford Park," "The Player" and "Nashville." Like those efforts, this one features a large cast of characters.

Unlike them, though, Barbara Turner's ("Pollock," "Georgia") screenplay is surprisingly scant in terms of plot or character details. As the film proceeds through its 110-some minute runtime, we follow various characters involved in various ways with the ballet company and its performances.

There's Ry - played by Neve Campbell ("Panic," the "Scream" films) who championed the film, co-wrote its story and is entirely believable in the part - who gets her shot as the lead dancer in a performance. James Franco ("Spider-Man," "City by the Sea") plays the chef who falls for her, while Malcolm McDowell ("Time After Time," "A Clockwork Orange") is quite good playing the demanding yet appreciative company director.

While there's obviously potential in their and others' stories for drama, the approach is superficial at best. In all honesty, there isn't much more than the above to the plot and it rarely develops into anything more than the superficial.

Whether it's the cause or result of that, Altman instead focuses on the practices and performances themselves. That's somewhat intriguing for a while as there are some visually fun and/or interesting routines and arrangements (although the heralded concluding one is a letdown compared to what precedes it).

After a while and with little to no drama occurring, however, all of that begins to feel redundant and even a bit boring. The costumes and lighting may be colorful, but the characters and their stories are not, resulting in a lackluster effort.

Although that occasionally gives one the impression that the filmmaker is making a faux-documentary, the half-hearted approach just doesn't work. While he and the others are obviously too reverential to the subject matter to turn it into a mockumentary, I would have preferred seeing the real thing - a full documentary - on the company, its people and their efforts.

Those who loved the ballet may feel differently, but I'd suggest if you're interested in such matters that you try to find performance videos of the real thing where no drama - however scant it may be - is injected into the offering.

Fun to watch for a while but ultimately boring due to the lack of story and any sort of viewer interest or involvement in the characters, "The Company" never successfully manages to leap off the stage and onto the screen. It rates as just a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed December 1, 2003 / Posted January 23, 2004

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