2004-10-21 / Arts & Entertainment

“Shall We Dance?” Has Two Left Feet

John Clark (Richard Gere) introduces his wife, Beverly (Susan Saran-don), to his dance instructor, Paulina (Jennifer Lopez) as a ballroom dance devotee (Stanley Tucci) looks on.                ©2004Miramax Films 
John Clark (Richard Gere) introduces his wife, Beverly (Susan Saran-don), to his dance instructor, Paulina (Jennifer Lopez) as a ballroom dance devotee (Stanley Tucci) looks on. ©2004Miramax Films By Christy Lemire

AP Entertainment Writer

“Shall We Dance?’” is exceedingly faithful — at least in structure — to its source material, a Japanese film of the same name about an accountant who breaks out of his midlife rut by secretly taking ballroom dance lessons.

The setting has been moved to Chi-cago and Richard Gere plays a lawyer named John Clark, but otherwise this remake is nearly scene-for-scene identical to the 1996 original, right down to some of the dialogue.

Tonally, though, it couldn’t be more different, because it’s utterly devoid of subtlety.

Masayuki Suo’s “Shall We Dance?” had a real sweetness and charm about it; there was something lovely in the awkwardness of its characters as they discovered themselves anew through the waltz and the mambo.

Peter Chelsom’s “Shall We Dance?” has loud, two-dimensional characters and oversimplified emotions. The brash, curvaceous female dancer from the first film, for example, is even more of a loudmouth here. Whether or not these people change, it’s hard to care.

But to say that this is yet another example of heavy-handed American-ization wouldn’t be entirely accurate. Chelsom is a British director, though the film’s rushed aesthetic is symptomatic of the laziest and least memorable romantic comedies, which are spoon-fed each year to American audiences.

(Chelsom, by the way, previously directed the flat “Serendipity” and “Town & Country,” and screenwriter Audrey Wells previously wrote the painful “Dis-ney’s The Kid.”)

While much about this new movie feels over the top, Jennifer Lopez is oddly restrained as Paulina, a competitive dancer who’s stuck teaching class-es at Miss Mitzi’s Studio alongside the El train. Like her or not, you have to admit that the artist formerly known as J.Lo has a certain radiance that makes her magnetic. Here, she sure looks like Jennifer Lopez with her tight ponytail, nude lip gloss and wardrobe of neutrals and pastels, but in her attempt at conveying melancholy, Lopez merely appears constipated.

She would seem completely miscast if the role didn’t call for her to dance, which the former Fly Girl does, eventually. In a scene that’s been added to the remake, John and Paulina share a passionate (though ultimately chaste) late-night tango, which is the film’s high point.

John has a smart, beautiful wife (Susan Sarandon), two great kids and a successful career, but he’s suffering from the sensation that something is missing when he sees Paulina staring wistfully out the dance studio window during his commute home on the train.

Curious about this young woman, he starts taking dance lessons to learn more about her, only to learn that he enjoys dance itself. (He also picks up the moves faster than his Japanese coun-terpart — after all, this is Richard Gere, who played razzle-dazzle lawyer Billy Flynn in the movie “Chicago.”)

His motley classmates include the burly, goofy Vern (Omar Miller); the overly slick Chic (Bobby Cannavale, whose charisma was better used in “The Station Agent”); the obnoxious blonde Bobbie (Lisa Ann Walter) and Link (Stanley Tucci), John’s co-worker who’s been dancing disguised as a mambo king for years. (This character in the original, Mr. Aoki, got the big-gest laughs; it’s almost as much of a hoot to watch the open-shirted, gold-chained Tucci hamming it up in a tousled brown wig.)

But John’s wife, who doesn’t know he’s been cha-cha-ing by night, smells perfume on his shirts, thinks he’s acting weirdly happy and suspects he’s having an affair. She hires a pair of private investigators (Richard Jenkins and Nick Cannon) to do some snooping and, naturally, they get swept up in the dance, too.

It would be too easy to say that this new version of “Shall We Dance?” has two left feet, since its heart is in the right place. Renting the original, though, would be a step in the right direction.

“Shall We Dance?” is rated PG-13 for some sexual references and brief language. Running time: 106 minutes.

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