Shall We Dance?

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 April, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 April, 2005, 12:00am

Starring: Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez, Susan Sarandon

Director: Peter Chelsom

The film: Comparisons are inevitable between Miramax's Shall We Dance remake and the original 1996 Japanese version of the same name, directed by Masayuki Suo.

More or less faithful to the simple plot, the clearest point of departure is in the choice of leading men: snake-hipped Richard Gere replaces the ever stiff, often noble Koji Yakusho, one of Japan's favourite actors.

Although the officer and a gigolo may seem an odd choice to play a middle-aged man who coaxes passion into his life through ballroom dancing, it's to Gere's credit that the shoes fit perfectly. Where Yakusho played an unassuming accountant with a dutiful wife and a daughter, his counterpart, John Clark, is a lawyer with a career-oriented wife and two well-adjusted teenage children. Life isn't bad but he wants more.

Travelling home on the train one evening, he spots doe-eyed dance instructor Paulina (Jennifer Lopez) staring out a studio window. She apparently looks the way he feels, prompting him to sign up for classes on impulse. Joining Clark in finding their groove are a man who needs to lose weight and a cad who hopes to pull chicks with new moves. Then, there's the closet tango freak colleague (Stanley Tucci, in the role played by Naoto Takenaka) - a faceless worker by day and a Fabio-style, open-shirted he-man by night. Tucci doesn't trigger the same sort of laughs, however, possibly because his behaviour wouldn't be considered as outrageous in the US as it would in Japan.

The same point could be made about ballroom dancing in general. Whereas it's a hobby an average male might wish to hide in Japan, surely that's not the case in the US. Which makes it hard to believe that Clark would need to conceal his new interest from his wife - ably played by Susan Sarandon - who naturally suspects infidelity when her husband starts coming home late.

To an extent, a love affair does develop between Clark and the distant diva Paulina, although it's mostly one way. He gets a vicarious thrill from watching her dance and she appreciates that he's serious about the art form. Each helps the other overcome life's bumps and nary a kiss is exchanged.

Where dance is concerned, this is no Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers vehicle - but neither is the original version, although Gere never appears as lead-footed as Yakusho. Lopez, who really only plays a bit part, puts her best foot forward and earns respect as a dancer.

The extras: A clutch is included, the best of which is a look back at ballroom dancing. The Pussycat Dolls' music video of Sway is also a generous addition.

The verdict: Was a US version necessary? No. Is it better than the original? No. Is it worth watching? Yes, largely because of Gere's performance and Lopez's appeal.