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Shall We Dance - Preview & US reaction



Preview by: Jack Foley

NOT content with remaking Japanese thrillers and horror films, Hollywood has now turned to its romantic comedies for inspiration - and UK fans of Strictly Ballroom Dancing could well be in for a treat.

Shall We Dance? takes its cue from a popular 1996 Japanese film of the same name (starring Koji Yakusyo and Tamiyo Kusakari), and features a strong ensemble line-up, including Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci and Bobby Cannavale (of The Station Agent fame).

Gere plays Chicago-based lawyer, John Clark, who finds himself seeking more from life even though it appears to be perfect.

When he sees a beautiful woman (Jennifer Lopez) peering out of the window of a dance class, however, he becomes captivated by her gaze and, one night, resolves to join the dance class, thereby discovering a world he never knew existed.

Soon dance becomes John's obsession, his escapism and means of finding joy, yet he cannot bring himself to tell his wife (Sarandon) and children, prompting them to become suspicious and hire a detective to find out if he is having an affair.

Things come to a head when John is entered into Chicago's biggest dance competition...

The original Shall We Dance, directed by Masayuki Suo, captured the hearts of Japanese film-goers, thanks to its comic characters and rousing dance sequences. It subsequently earned 13 Japanese Academy Awards.

The remake, directed by Peter Chelsom (of Serendipity fame) probably won't win any, despite being backed by awards specialists, Miramax.

Yet for fans of Gere, it offers an agreeable mix of the suave charm he showed in Pretty Woman with the dance choreography he first learned in Chicago.

Indeed, the actor confesses to having had his own love affair with dance, and the freedom and fun it brings, ever since his tap-dancing role in the Oscar-winning musical.

"The emotional and psychological challenges of really opening yourself up to a dancing partner, of becoming sensitive to every move, of accessing deeper emotions to express yourself, changes you," he explained.

"That's why we still love Fred Astaire, because his grace and his open heart still move us today. There's just something about dancing that has power."

US reaction

Unlike his role in Chicago, however, Gere wasn't able to win over quite so many American critics when the film opened in October 2004.

The film received largely mixed reviews, with the Los Angeles Times getting the ball rolling by describing it as 'a sleek Hollywood crowd-pleaser, more movie than art film, but its makers have wisely stuck not only to the spirit but often even to the letter of the original'.

The Dallas Morning News agreed, stating that it is 'a polished, feel-good movie that will be most appreciated by those who went back for second helpings of My Big Fat Greek Wedding'.

While the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote: "So supple is this story about the man with two lead feet who walks into a dance class and then waltzes out of his midlife funk, that it pretty much survives the transplant from its Tokyo Zen garden to a Windy City rose arbor."

On a more negative note, however, was the Hollywood Reporter, which wrote it off as 'a listless, Hollywooden affair populated by generic characters that are either blandly underdeveloped (in the case of the leads) or drawn with tired broad strokes'.

And USA Today, which felt it 'turns a sweet, lilting story into a clunky, clichéd and tedious movie sitcom'.

The New York Post was equally derisory, stating that 'there isn't even any exciting dancing here, and what hoofing there is has been heavily edited, usually with the dancers' feet cropped off'.

While the San Francisco Chronicle wrote that 'where the original soared, the new version hugs the ground. It's like the difference between Fred Astaire's dancing and Richard Gere's'.

And Entertainment Weekly lamented that it's 'a movie that can't decide whether to frown or twirl'.

But returning to the positives, and Variety in particular, which noted that 'it's shamelessly direct in its emotional targeting, but in a gentle, inoffensive way that will appeal to viewers who prefer the old storytelling formulas to the more sensationalistic contemporary approach'.

Likewise, the Boston Globe, which wrote: "Gere is a pleasure, smiling and spinning and high-fiving his two classmates - played by Bobby Cannavale and Omar Miller - and the movie is happy and extremely likable'.

And About.com, which concludes this overview by stating that 'Stanley Tucci is the reason to see Shall We Dance?'

The movie is due to arrive in Britain just after Valentine's Day, on February 18, 2005.

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