March 08, 1993 12:00 PM

Paul Mercurio, Tara Morice

Mercurio, an accomplished ballroom dancer, is driving his dancing-school master and ambitious mother crazy. Poised to win a regional championship, he risks blowing it all by insisting on dancing, as one contest judge disdainfully puts it, “his own flashy, crowd-pleasing steps.” What’s worse, his intended partner, Morice, is an inexperienced Plain Jane whose only real recommendation is that she believes in his new moves and secretly loves him.

Yes, Strictly Ballroom, the most commercially successful Australian film since 1986’s Crocodile Dundee, steals shamelessly from both Dirty Dancing and Flashdance. But what makes the low-budget ($2.6 million) Strictly Ballroom more appealing than those earlier dance films are ingratiating performances by its unfamiliar cast of Australian actors (Mercurio, Morice, Pal Thomson as Mercurio’s mother and, especially, Barry Otto as his father) and the sassy first-time direction of Baz Luhrmann, who also cowrote the script. (PG)

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