"Shall We Dance?" (2004)
DVD Review
by Kevin Carr

    MOVIE: ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: **** (out of 5 stars)

    Richard Gere as JOHN CLARK
    Jennifer Lopez as PAULINA
    Susan Sarandon as BEVERLY CLARK
    Stanley Tucci as LINK
    Lisa Ann Walter as BOBBIE

    Rated PG-13
    Studio: Miramax

    Directed by: Peter Chelsom
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I have mixed feelings about the remake of the 1997 Japanese film “Shall We Dance.” On one hand, I felt this was a fresh look at the film with some of the clunkiness of the original gussied up. However, there were aspects of this new version that didn’t quite translate, and some that were ruined.

This film sticks pretty close to the original story. Richard Gere plays John Clark, a workaholic attorney whose life suddenly comes to life when he starts taking ballroom dancing lessons. He originally does it to meet Pauline (Jennifer Lopez), the pretty dancing instructor. However, as time goes on, he learns to love dance. Unfortunately, he doesn’t tell his wife (Susan Sarandon) about his new obsession, which leads to some marital strife.

This is a nice, light, heartwarming story. But every time Jennifer Lopez appeared on screen, I just tuned out. A lot of this has to do with the outrageous ego with which Lopez saturated all of her projects. In the Japanese original, the dance instructor character was pretty, but believable as an average person. Lopez, on the other hand, is impeccably made up in every shot. She’s always wearing a slinky, sexy dance number. She doesn’t look like she’s been dancing all day, but rather spending too much time in her trailer, sipping mineral water and gobbling up the attention of the make-up and wardrobe folks.

The bottom line is that Jennifer Lopez just doesn’t pull things off. Heck, she hasn’t pulled off the average girl since “Anaconda.” Even her back story and motivations have been twisted to fit the American romantic comedy formula. Unfortunately, this new personality doesn’t quite hold up without the Japanese background of the character from the original and her admiration of a male dancer who always protects his partner.

As out of touch and unbelievable as Lopez is, Richard Gere is the exact opposite. Sure, he’s a multimillion dollar movie star, but he can still play the average, likable guy. Gere is perfect for this role, and he really carries the brunt of the film. He even manages to make us believe he is ashamed of his new hobby, without the cultural stigma that is so apparent in the original film.

A big mistake in the film was to lean so much on Susan Sarandon. Her character is expanded from the original, giving her a little more meat. Unfortunately, the movie isn’t about her. They try to make it about her. But it’s really about John Clark’s journey - not his wife’s.

There are other rocky problems with “Shall We Dance,” including the unnecessary addition of John Clark’s son and Paulina’s back story about being a dry cleaner’s daughter. What the heck was that about?

However, there were many parts of this film that were improved upon the original. John Clark’s dancing buddies are given much more to work with, and they’re a lot funnier. And no mention of this film can be made without bowing down at the feet of Stanley Tucci. I’m not one to jump on bandwagons, but I have to give props to Tucci as one of the best supporting actors of our time. His Japanese counterpart was hard to live up to, but he managed to actually make the character even better.

There’s quite a few extra features you’ll find on this disc. Director Peter Chelsom gives a very insightful commentary, not just for the feature itself but also for the half dozen or so deleted scenes. There are three behind-the-scenes featurettes - one about the movie, the next about the music and the last about the different dances used throughout.

But, of course, my favorite special feature is the “Sway” music video featuring the Pussycat Dolls, for obvious reasons. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

Specifications: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. Widescreen (1.85:1) - Enhanced for 16x9 televisions. French language track. Spanish subtitles. English subtitles for the hearing impaired.

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