Starring: Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez, Susan Sarandon, Lisa
Ann Walter, Stanley Tucci. Rated PG-13.
Dance? (1996) was a
touching, albeit quaint Japanese import that documented one middle-aged
businessman’s struggle against the tedium of routine and the quiet desperation
of his home life. One night, on the train ride home, he glimpses a beautiful
woman standing in the window of a ballroom-dancing school. Her forlorn
expression seems to reflect the emptiness in his soul, and soon, piqued by
curiosity and something akin to a youthful crush, he finds himself learning the
rumba and the waltz, revitalizing his tired spirit in the process.
remake, starring Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez, stays stringently faithful to
the original, careful not to tamper with a winning formula. But the modest
charms of Masayuki Suo’s original get lost in translation, and 2004’s Shall
We Dance? is slick
schlock, weighed down by bland, underdeveloped characters and a script with all
the sensibilities of a tired sitcom.
What were they
thinking? Was Gere so determined to reprise his acclaimed song-and-dance turn
in Chicago that he
enlisted in a project so utterly devoid of energy? Did J.Lo bother to read a
script that reduces her to so much window dressing, muttering inanities like, “A
man with a handkerchief? I didn’t know they made those anymore”? And couldn’t
someone have spared Stanley Tucci the indignity of his role as the flamboyant
Link Peterson, a businessman-by-day, dancer-by-night whose defining
characteristic is his baldness?
The story is
simple. John Clark (Gere) is a devoted husband and father who has lost his
mojo. Much to his surprise, he rediscovers it through his sudden passion for
dance, inspired, of course, by his desire to bed Jenny from the Bronx. When his
advances are rebuffed, John briefly considers leaving the dance studio for
good, but a strange thing happens on the way to the inevitable ballroom
competition looming ahead: John realizes that all this fancy footwork is
injecting some joie into his vivre.
Beverly (Susan Sarandon), John’s suspicious wife, begins to wonder what’s
keeping her husband out so late and, for that matter, why he’s dancing with
himself, Billy Idol-style, into the wee hours. So she does what any intelligent
woman would do – she hires a private detective! (Asking might have worked, too,
but this is the kind of movie where characters are required to act like
buffoons in order to push forward a plot that would self-destruct if anyone
used a little common sense.)
While Beverly is
temporarily oh-so-relieved to learn that John hasn’t been cheating, she’s stung
and more than a little confused by his failure to come clean about his unlikely
hobby – not to mention his clumsily contrived friendship with the breathtaking
Paulina (Lopez). John spends the rest of the movie trying to please both women,
wearing out his new dancing shoes in the process.
Based in a
Japanese society that regarded ballroom dancing as a scandalous diversion, the
original Shall We Dance? suggested
that the foxtrot and the cha-cha could be both
spiritually invigorating and erotic. Director Peter Chelsom’s remake seems to
find in dance a source of crude slapstick humor, complete with pratfalls,
splitting dresses and tumbling hairpieces. It is a mostly charmless affair, meandering
toward a forced and rather obvious conclusion.