As a study in wish fulfillment with Richard Gere playing a beautiful Chicago lawyer, Susan Sarandon cast as his beautiful wife, and Jennifer Lopez swanning by as the beautiful ballroom dance instructor who whirls him out of his midlife doldrums, Shall We Dance? is a whole different rumba from the original, set in Japan and featuring characters who, cultural rigidity suggests, bow to ATMs as well as to one another. So you might expect this candy-colored remake to be set to a livelier tempo than that of the 1996 international hit by Masayuki Suo that inspired it. It wouldn’t work any other way. The popular Japanese sleeper hinged on the conflict between a national character of reticence and the individual expression of one man’s yearning, so shocking even to himself that he keeps the innocent excitement of learning to dance — and the stimulation of new society — a guilty secret from his wife. The businesslike redo is set in the land of the self-actualized and boasts experienced movie stars whose every gesture — playing life’s winners looking for more from an already blessed existence — seems scaled for readability in the photo-filled pages of InStyle.
All of which is fine by me: Bring on Gere as restless baby boomer John Clark in his perfectly cut business suits, and Lopez as the delicately strung perfectionist known only as Paulina in her curve-hugging dance-floor princess wear. Let the two of them twine in a carefully lit tango of modern sex and Fred-and-Ginger glamour; let Sarandon, as Beverly Clark, rule her portion of the plot like a tawny and bosomy queen. My foot-dragging problem with the new, happier, more luxurious, and much shallower Shall We Dance? is this: The movie never gives its heart freely and honestly to the satiny whirl of post-Chicago showbiz spectacle it so clearly wants to be. By insisting that John, Beverly, and Paulina are characters with real problems (if by problems we mean whether the idealized Clark marriage is ideal enough, and whether Paulina, the daughter of humble dry cleaners, will ever hit the heights as the best little ballroom dancer in the world), we’re made to feel shallow for our impatience with their discontent. Written by Audrey Wells (Under the Tuscan Sun) and directed by Peter Chelsom (of the star-crossed Town & Country), this marquee-driven entertainment, with its manufactured obstacles, actually thinks it is seriously about second chances.
No wonder Lopez looks brittle. Working so hard to convey dainty melancholy, the actress furrows a brow best smoothed in the celebrity spotlight, in a movie that can’t decide whether to frown or twirl.