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With: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Jennifer Lopez, Stanley Tucci, Bobby Cannavale,
Written by: Audrey Wells, based on a screenplay by Masayuki Suo
Directed by: Peter Chelsom
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexual references and brief language
Running Time: 106
Date: 10/15/2004
IMDB

Shall We Dance? (2004)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Two Left Feet

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In the summer of 1997, Miramax opened a sugarcoated Japanese film that predictably became an arthouse favorite with its easy-to-swallow presentation and almost irresistible charm. Now, seven years later, the same company presents an equally sugarcoated American remake that contains all the same charms but also the same flaws. The much bigger problem however, comes in the cultural translation; it's a serious defect that hangs over the entire production.

In Shall We Dance, Richard Gere takes over the role originally played by the wonderful Koji Yakusho, as a bored businessman stuck in a rut. While riding the el-train home from work, John Clark passes a dance studio. One day he spies a lovely girl (Jennifer Lopez) with a faraway look leaning in the window. He gets off the train and spontaneously signs up for eight weeks of ballroom dancing lessons. In the Japanese version, the businessman keeps his dancing a secret because of societal taboos; it's viewed as an erotic act and therefore "dirty." But John keeps his dancing a secret because -- get this -- he's embarrassed to want more out of life. Anyway, that's the line that screenwriter Audrey Wells (Under the Tuscan Sun) comes up with. It's futile and frustrating.

Meanwhile, John's wife (Susan Sarandon) frets needlessly and hires a detective (Richard Jenkins), who at least provides some comic relief with his bits of physical business and his relationship with a classics-quoting sidekick (Nick Cannon). Likewise, the dance studio comes packed with easily-typed characters who can be described in one sentence; a fat kid, a closeted gay man, a brassy, loudmouth dame, etc. Wells and director Peter Chelsom try to add "depth" by giving each of them one big secret, and then "unexpectedly" revealing it.

Nonetheless, the lead performers carry the film off nicely, from Sarandon's confused housewife to Lopez's brooding, mysteriously beautiful dancer, and especially Stanley Tucci as a sequin-loving straight man who dons disguises before dancing. Gere has the same kind of weighty sadness as Yakusho, and he fits the part like a glove. But Chelsom -- who has the dishonor of having helmed Town and Country, the biggest financial flop in Hollywood history -- lets the film fatally slide in its final half-hour by pouring on the melodramatic steam just as the shaky plot threads come to a head. The original film at least made one want to take dancing lessons. This remake has the effect of making one want to reach for the remote.

DVD Details: The film is even weaker upon a second viewing at home. The extras include a director commentary track, deleted scenes and several featurettes. One is called "Beginning Ballroom," but has nothing to do with dancing lessons. It's a brief, vague outline of the history of dancing interspersed with interviews with the cast and crew. The Pussycat Dolls' music video for "Sway" is not unappealling, however. On the plus side, Miramax has finally chosen to release the original Japanese version on DVD in conjunction with this remake, but they're doing it in a way that will help sell the remake.