Best Foot Forward

Richard Gere takes on a role requiring plenty of ballroom

All right, so I like a movie with Jennifer Lopez that features a lot of ballroom dancing. I guess I'm going a little soft in my mid 30s, because this generally dopey movie called Shall We Dance? had me feeling all happy and sappy by its midpoint. It even had me misty-eyed during a montage that featured Peter Gabriel crooning at his most anxious over snippets of couples enjoying renewed happiness in their relationships. Yes, I feel like a major spaz.

Richard Gere plays John, a happily married man with a satisfying job who yearns to be a bit happier despite his luck. He rides a commuter train to work on a daily basis and spies a beautiful, sad-looking woman (Jennifer Lopez) peering out the window of a dance studio. The combination of curiosity and monotony gets him through the door of Miss Mitzi's Dance Studio, where he finds himself signed up for ballroom dance lessons.

At first, it's not really clear if his goal is to woo Paulina (Lopez) or learn some steps to impress himself and his mild-mannered wife (Susan Sarandon). A couple of awkward moments with Paulina put the question of dance lessons up in the air, but when tested, John finds out that his ultimate motivation is not to see Paulina naked, but to dance like the wind.

This is all a bit corny, but Gere sells it with major charm and sensitivity. It's a nice thing to see him dance without a bunch of strange editing decisions (his big tap-dance number was mangled by flashy editing in Chicago). Lopez, who has endured a couple of duds since 2003 (Gigli, Jersey Girl) does nice work with her relatively small role. Paulina gives Lopez a chance to show some of the pleasant screen presence and charisma that was more evident earlier in her career (Out of Sight, Selena) before she became all that is the J-Lo.

She's also a damn fine dancer, and good dancing would perhaps be what most people are looking for in a film called Shall We Dance? A moment in which Gere and Lopez take a spin on the floor is quite respectable, as is Lopez's little solo workout number. Also donning impressive dancing shoes is Stanley Tucci as a tight-assed office worker who dresses up as a Latin lover for his alter ego as hoofer extraordinaire, a disguise that includes a bad wig and fake teeth.

For all of its goodness, Shall We Dance? has its share of problems that drag down the recommendation level. While Gere's midlife crisis is depicted with a certain warmth and realism, the above-mentioned Tucci character (while a fine dancer) often reeks of midlife crisis cliché. Bobby Cannavale, so good in The Station Agent, is virtually wasted in the role of macho boy with a secret, looking to learn a few moves for the sole purpose of impressing the women. Worst of all is Lisa Ann Walter as Bobbie, an obnoxious dancer-wannabe who takes joy in tearing others apart. She's supposed to be funny, but I found her irritating.

A subplot involving Sarandon hiring a private investigator should've been incredibly lame, but the fact that the investigator is played by the great Richard Jenkins (the acid tripper from Flirting with Disaster) makes this portion of the film more than tolerable.

The likes of Gere, Lopez and a sweet Sarandon make Shall We Dance? something worth seeing even if it does boast some cringe-inducing moments. The soft-hearted will find themselves wading through the muck for the instances that put big smiles upon the face. Truth be told, I wouldn't be surprised if the ballroom dancing lesson business got a little bump in the weeks after this release.

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