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Shall We Dance?

  Shall We Dance?
"Somewhere, out there, out where dreams come true ..."

© 2004, Miramax
All Rights Reserved

John (Richard Gere) is a bored lawyer blessed with a loving wife, Beverly (a marvelous Susan Sarandon), and two kids. On his commuter train route every day, John passes a dance studio where he spies a forlorn dancer name Paulina (Jennifer Lopez) staring out her window. Smitten, John joins a dance class to get close to Paulina, but soon finds the freeing nature of the art form raises his spirits and breathes life into him and his classmates (including a miscast Lisa Ann Walter and Bobby Cannavale). Caught between lying to his wife, having romantic feelings for his teacher, and hiding his passion for dance from his co-workers, John's simple, mundane life quickly becomes complicated.

There is a great difficulty in remaking the 1997 Japanese hit film, "Shall We Dance?". The original picture reflected Japanese culture in a way American audiences could sympathize with. It symbolized a businessman's freedom from monotony, from his expectations of hard work, and from the stress of martial complacency and responsibility. It was a film truly of its time and region. The new "Dance" (IMDb listing) is a lukewarm Hollywood T-ball game, where the only goal is to please every audience member.

Casting is where the 2004 "Dance" really falters. The supporting talent is a hodgepodge of character actors who are playing far too broadly with their stereotypes (fatty eats, macho guy is really gay, and high maintenance woman is misunderstood). Richard Gere gives his expected "spirited Gere" performance, but he's all wrong for the part. Gere and director Peter Chelsom have trouble selling John's vocational depression, which is only touched on with some weak narration. His work problems are never truly explored, making the eventual euphoric dance release artificial. Gere also can't get his hands around the matrimonial quicksand the character should be feeling. Beverly is a devoted, beautiful, respectful wife, making John's inability to vocalize his dance aspirations mean-spirited in retrospect. Of course, Gere is here to smile and fill out a tuxedo in a way that only Richard Gere can, but his performance lacks the middle-age gravitas that the character and the film are thirsting for.

Shockingly, it's Jennifer Lopez that almost steals the film away from Gere. "Dance" plays to her strengths, which is body movement and silent authority. Thankfully, Chelsom doesn't hand over much dialog to the supporting actress (her kryptonite), instead allowing Lopez to lead with her steely dancing focus (her Tango gaze is killer) and her gorgeous costumes. Gere could learn a thing or two from Lopez's alarming precision in "Dance."

Filmmaker Peter Chelsom is in full wound-licking mode with "Dance." One of his last films, the notorious $100 million dollar Warren Beatty flop "Town & Country," took a dive three years ago. "Dance" is an unabashed audience-pleasing movie, which, if done with some personality, can make for cinema greatness. But "Dance" has very little charm. The picture feels as though a committee made it, with each member throwing in an exhausted joke or situation they know crowds have loved before. Originality is not the name of the game with "Dance," but energy should've been, and the picture doesn't have it. It gets even worse to see Chelsom pander to the teen audience with a bizarre cameo by rapper Ja Rule, and lose all sense of story by including two private detective characters (played by Nick Cannon and Richard Jenkins) who yuk it up and throw out unnecessary F-words just to make the film seem less Disney.

Chelsom's greatest sin is keeping the audience away from serious dancing sequences for most of the film. Chelsom gets somewhat serious when he's forced to hand the audience John's ultimate payoff: a terrific sequence between John and Paulina where they practice their passionate moves together in the dark. Chelsom needed more of this scene's vibrancy and less of actor Stanley Tucci (as John's Latino-impersonating, dance professional friend) relentlessly hamming it up with wigs and fake teeth.

Filmfodder Grade: D+

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