The word that most comes to mind when thinking about the Hollywood remake of the thoroughly delightful Japanese film, SHALL WE DANCE, is irksome, followed by tedious, pallid, and pointless. The cultural nuances of the original have been, of course, lost entirely, and in their stead is the sort of deep insight into the human condition that can most readily be found in a fortune cookie.
Richard Gere stars as John Clark, an estate planner stuck in a rut and laboring under a vague sense of dissatisfaction. Never mind the lovely home, lovely kids, and equally lovely wife, Dorothy (Susan Sarandon). No, theres something missing and one night while riding home on the commuter train, he spots what it is in a window. That would be Paulina (Jennifer Lopez), an unhappy dance instructor with her own reasons for discontent. He signs up for the beginners class at the school where she teaches, and suddenly, though his instructor is not the woman in the window, hes a much happier man, much to the consternation of his family, because, of course, he didnt tell them about his new hobby.
Gere remains an affable cipher throughout, lovely to look at, but otherwise dull as he good-naturedly goes through his paces in a pointedly un-entertaining script. His two sidekicks in the beginners dance class are supposed to be comic relief, but are instead an object lesson in what happens when a writer (Audrey Mills) has a tin ear for humor, much less dialogue or originality. There is, for example, the would-be stud (a completely wasted Bobby Canavale) constantly reminding one and all how much he loves the ladies and how much they love him in a peculiarly repellant mix of macho and smarm. Since he also accuses everyone else of being gay, is there anyone who cant see where thats going? And that, boys and girls, is about as sophisticated as this flick gets as it lurches from one odd and oddly uninvolving moment to the next that are thrown together in an incoherent and irritating whole. Lopez, hair flattened and lips pursed in a perpetual frown, drains the wattage from the screen with every appearance. Even a climactic pas de deux with Gere fails to ignite anything more than a quick glance at ones watch and subsequent calculation of just how much longer this ordeal will last.
What few moments that click are due solely to the talent of director Peter Chelsom, who wrote and directed the thoroughly wonderful FUNNY BONES. If only it were enough to save the film, but when saddled with things such as the painfully underwritten subplot involving a desperately wired Stanley Tucci as the schlubby straight guy who loves to put on sequins and a stringy wig to dance an energetic merenge, theres just not a lot that can be done. As for the women of the piece, one cant help but remark that Geres first sight of Lopez is as she is standing at a window, bathed in a red light and gazing out into space with a bored and jaded expression. Cross-culturally speaking, its an image that could mean many things, but here in America it connotes nothing so much as the red-light district, not, I think, where the filmmakers intended our collective imaginations to go. Then again, what to make of Dorothy letting the private detective she hired to trail John show her his surveillance photos while draping an arm cozily around her shoulders? Or her meeting him later in plunging décolleté to talk business over drinks in a dimly lit bar? Then again, Sarandon shows progressively more cleavage and less conviction as the film splutters along on its long trip to nowhere. Why bother pondering why?
The original SHALL WE DANCE explored the real courage it took for a Japanese salaryman to defy the conventions of the workplace and forge an individual, off-hours identity for himself that didnt involve his co-workers. The remake explores why taking a film that speaks to a specific cultural quirk and attempting to transpose it to a culture where such quirks dont exist is, at best, a tricky business. At worst, as it is here, its a disaster.