”It’s somewhere between ‘The Full Monty’ and the romance of ‘Something’s Gotta Give,”’ teases director Peter Chelsom (last at the helm of the romantic comedy ”Serendipity”). His new movie is an adaptation of the critically acclaimed 1996 Japanese romance about a buttoned-up businessman who surreptitiously falls in love with dance. (”Under the Tuscan Sun” screenwriter Audrey Wells penned the new script.) ”The Japanese movie survived and depended on the cultural taboo of ballroom dancing in public,” says Chelsom, side-stepping worries that his movie will lose its rhythm when translated into an American story. ”The taboo in this movie is that if you live the American Dream, there’s a certain shame in raising your hand and saying, ‘Actually, wait a minute, I’m not happy, I want more.”’
Raising said hand is Richard Gere, who plays a successful Chicago lawyer, happily married to his wife (Susan Sarandon). On one dreary commute home, he spots a lonely-looking Jennifer Lopez in a dance studio. Sign this guy up for lessons! Gere joins up with fellow flat-footers Stanley Tucci, Bobby Cannavale, and Lisa Ann Walter, and Lopez tries to transform them into competitive dancers. To get into fighting form, the cast spent four months training in a Manhattan dance studio. ”I said to Richard early on, in ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’ it was boot camp for soldiers,” says Chelsom. ”Now it’s boot camp for dancers.” Cast and crew then decamped for Winnipeg, a last-minute location after SARS-fearing producers ditched Toronto.
Finally, don’t let the sexy picture fool you. Gere and Lopez get it on only on the dance floor. (”There is an amazing late-night tango lesson,” says Chelsom, ”an extraordinarily steamy lesson that she gives him as a kind of master class before the competition. It is as if in the film, that is the sex of the movie.”) Meanwhile, J. Lo got on quite well with her costars off camera. ”I tell this to all my friends and they’re always surprised,” says Cannavale. ”She’s really, really funny. I’d never worked with superstars before, so I was really nervous going in. But she made me laugh so much I was never self-conscious around her.”
Are folks nervous that after the debacle of ”Gigli,” Lopez’s $50 million movie will be another high-profile washout? ”I think there probably is concern,” says Chelsom, ”but there’s no greater remedy for bad press than being good in a good movie.”
THE GOOD NEWS After ”Chicago” and ”Unfaithful,” Gere is hot.
THE BAD NEWS After Bennifer, Lopez is not.