Fri, Jan 21, 2005 - Page 17 News List

`Shall We Dance?' or watch a film instead?

By Stephen Holden  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Jennifer Lopez gives a creditable impression of a dancer, not surprisingly, in Shall We Dance? with Richard Gere.


In the romantic comedy Shall We Dance? Jennifer Lopez, in full sizzle, minces no words in evoking what ballroom dancing is all about. Instructing Richard Gere in the rumba, she defines it as "a vertical expression of a horizontal wish." And in the too-brief sequence in which they meld as an iconic dance-floor couple, they approach the swooning grace of Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse, whom the movie holds up as ultimate dancing partners afloat in pure rapture.

The director Peter Chelsom (Serendipity) and the screenwriter Audrey Wells (Under the Tuscan Sun) understand that dance movies, to sustain their giddy spell, must remain feverishly on their toes, even when there's no swooping and gliding in sight.

Shall We Dance? is an Americanization of a popular 1996 Japanese film and is an old-fashioned, feel-good fantasy that piles on the euphoria.

Instead of a quiet rebel against the straitjacket of Japanese conformity, its hero is a suburban paragon instinctively rushing to the spice rack to add more flavor to his life. By the time the movie ends, you've been doused with so much cinnamon, nutmeg and Hollywood tinsel that it might as well be Christmas.

The movie returns Gere to the site of his hoofing triumph in Chicago. His character, John Clark, is a mild-mannered estate lawyer, happily married with two teenage children. Vaguely discontented, John, on an impulse, starts taking evening classes at Miss Mitzi's Ballroom Dancing Studio, the pink lights beckon to him each day as he passes it on the train to work.

Lopez's character, Paulina, whom he has noticed standing at the studio's window, is an instructor who takes a special interest in John's progress while he trains for a contest.

Film Notes

Directed by: Peter Chelsom

Starring: Richard Gere (John Clark), Jennifer Lopez (Paulina), Susan Sarandon (Beverly Clark), Stanley Tucci (Link Peterson), Bobby Cannavale (Chic), Lisa Ann Walter (Bobbie), Omar Benson Miller (Vern), Anita Gillette (Miss Mitzi), Richard Jenkins (Detective) and Nick Cannon (Scotty)

Running time: 106 minutes

Taiwan Release: Today

The movie saves us from the embarrassment of watching John and Paulina pursue a May-to-December fling. The romantic lightning flickering between them in their final practice session is sublimated desire that generates far more heat than any messy bedroom tussle. The movie also goes out of its way to give Gere's colorless John at least half a dozen broad comic foils.

Shall We Dance? remains blissfully untethered to reality. Dance in the movies has always been synonymous with transcendence, as characters step out of their mundane lives into a wonderland where time stops.

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