John Clark (Richard Gere) has a pretty good life--a successful career; an adoring wife and two wonderful kids. Yet something isn't quite right. He and his wife Beverly (Susan Sarandon) have a strong and loving marriage but John feels restless and unfulfilled as he wades through his mind-numbing daily routine. Then one day while on the train home he happens to spy a beautiful dance instructor Paulina (Jennifer Lopez) staring forlornly through the window of Miss Mitzi's dance studio. Haunted by her gaze John impulsively jumps off the train and signs up for ballroom dance lessons unbeknownst to his wife. Suddenly John is exposed to a world he never imagined--a place filled with grand passions bitter rivalries and exhilarating dance relishing the moments he spends waltzing rumbaing and tangoing with his newfound friends (don't we all). But John soon discovers that it isn't enough to have a secret passion--the best part is sharing it with the ones he loves. Pour chocolate syrup over this one and call it done!
Gere's sure got happy feet these days. First the guy dropped jaws when he actually tap danced his way through the Oscar-winning Chicago. Now there's Shall We Dance?. What's next? Gene Kelly's part in Singin' in the Rain? In all fairness Gere plays John as an ordinary but charming middle-aged man who also just happens to have an affinity for ballroom dancing. It isn't in any way a stretch for the charismatic actor but he does have an uncanny ability to draw you in once he glides across the floor and flashes that sexy smile. As John's patient wife Sarandon doesn't go out on a limb either exuding her usual warm intelligence. As a married couple Gere and Sarandon do an excellent job keeping things refreshingly grounded. It's a marriage you immediately recognize--they've been together for so many years they've developed a loving familiarity but are trying to find ways keep it exciting. The supporting cast also do a great job livening up the proceedings including Lisa Ann Walter (Bruce Almighty) as the been-around-the-block ballroom dancer Bobbie and Stanley Tucci whose turn as Link a lawyer by day/salsa dancer by night is hilarious. Of course the one you really want to watch dance is Jennifer Lopez who sure does know how to sashay her way around her partners. Unfortunately when not dancing the rest of Lopez's performance is fairly stiff. Her sad sack story about some tragic past and losing her desire to dance competitively is just plain dull.
Once again Hollywood has no time to think of anything original simply remaking other classics--in this case the smash Japanese hit Shall We Dance? (Dansu Wo Shimasho Ka) written and directed by Masayuki Suo. Instead of concentrating on the Japanese culture and their taboos against the public intimacy of dance writer Audrey Wells (Under the Tuscan Sun) and director Peter Chelsom (Serendipity) find a way to give the story a good all-American spin concentrating on marital malaise and finding a way out of a personal abyss. That's all fine and dandy and gives the film a unique perspective; the problem is the subject matter: ballroom dancing. There have only been a handful of movies about that art form that have worked--the Japanese original just mentioned and Baz Luhrmann's Strictly Ballroom are two good examples. Maybe it's nice to go back to that old-fashioned age when Lawrence Welk's orchestra and dance partners brought the family together. But in this electrifying hip-hop age of MTV--with the writhing and the shimmying of nearly naked bodies on the primetime small screen--ballroom dancing seems a little er outdated.