Like Mr. Sugiyama, John Clark (Richard Gere) is an bored, overworked accountant needing a zest in life. He tells you a little about his job, mostly about the deceased and their wills. Every evening on his way home, he looks out the window of the train to see a beautiful but downcast lady gazing over the balcony of a dance school. Something about it spurs him to drop by the school and sign up for ballroom dancing. The lady is Paulina (Jennifer Lopez in her first lead role since Gigli), a dance instructor who like her Suo counterpart Mai is a substitute. What starts out as a dance lesson inspired by a girl turns into a passion for dancing, and John ends up preparing for a dance competition in which the finalists get to participate in the international ballroom dancing competition held in Blackpool, England.
The owner of the dance school and chief dance instructor Miss Mitzi (Anita Gilette) has a habit of taking liquor breaks in-between lessons and this is played up for comic effect. There is the busty, fiesty dance instructor Bobbie (Lisa Ann Walter) whose "stop checking out my ass" line becomes her catchphrase. "We'll try", the men drone. Her vocal idiosyncracies are accentuated for comic relief that works only half the time.
Next are John's dance classmates Vern (Omar Benson Miller), the big, obese guy with excessive perspiration syndrome, and Chic (Bobby Cannavale) the well-chiselled playboy wannabe. Playing this version of Suo's socially sterile but fiery master of Latin rhythm (with trademark wig), Aoki, is Stanley Tucci. He bears a close resemblance to Naoto Takenaka - the original Aoki - not only in characterization but also in comedic appeal. Last but obviously not least is John's wife Beverly (Susan Sarandon), who is unaware of her husband's late Wednesday night's activity. Unlike Mr. Sugiyama's wife, Beverly plays a larger role in the story almost to the point of having an entire sub-plot all her own. She has two co-workers whose personal drama hints that her own husband may be having an affair.
Screenwriter Audrey Wells (auteur of Under the Tuscan Sun and Guinevere) retains most of Suo's original story, but with the events trimmed and the pacing accelerated to give the stars get more screen time. It is the latter instances where the pace slows to leisurely: the almost flirtatious moments between Beverly and the private detective she hires to spy on John, every scene where Sarandon's Beverly dominates Gere's John, the dance sequence between Paulina and John for the sake of itself (as well as a tease of romance), and the extended post-competition melodrama that serves more material for Sarandon's Beverly. Everything else seems rushed.
Suo's film keeps the dramatics of the story around the unlikely paring of the accountant and the dance teacher who caught his eye. For the Miramax version, Wells injects a third party into the story in the form of Beverly. That is why she gets so much screen time, snappier dialogue and Sarandon's prima donna acting that screams for attention despite her supporting role. Beverly outshines John in character, and Sarandon likewise outshines Gere in acting. Yet one would wonder the believability factor of a professional woman like Beverly who, after discovering John's secret rendezvous, allows him to continue doing so for three months only to confront him about it in a parking lot and hold up traffic. It is apparently normal in a Hollywood movie for a couple to air their grievances in public, and kiss and make up later in a fairy-tale like setting. This is in reference to the scene prior to Paulina choosing a partner for the last dance. John shows up all decked in tuxedo and buttonhole at Beverly's workplace to ask her the title question. It is not necessary but Hollywood people can't end a movie without an unambiguous resolution dressed up for the sake of the romantic comedy - every movie of such genre always has the screen couple having a 'happily ever after' ending, however unbelievable it is in real life.
Knowing that this is a remake of the critically-acclaimed (multiple) award winner is what got the stars involved despite the fact that it is difficult to distinguish a believable story - which is Suo's version - from a star ensemble vehicle - Miramax's version. It should not surprise anyone that Gere's success in Chicago is what got him this role; you can see a bit of Billy Flynn in John Clark. Beverly is Sarandon rather than vice versa. J'Lo looks subdued (considering she did this movie at about the time of Gigli's release).
As in any Hollywood romantic comedy, there has to be a 'sidekick' character build up for laughs. That is where Walter's Bobbie comes in: a ditzy, busty motormouth blonde playing up to this female stereotype. Walter is over-the-top, which is the only way to play such overkill comedic material. But Tucci gives the most effective performance without pretension or vanity even though his character has both those qualities, and does not scream for attention to himself.
It is not hard to recommend a movie just for the stars. Miramax's Shall We Dance? is passable as a star vehicle for Gere, J'lo and Sarandon. But beneath that is nothing more than a more-style-than-substance replication of Suo's hit classic. The most obvious sign is the appearance of The King and I's "Shall We Dance?" Not at the start of the film - as is the case of Suo's version, thereby setting the mood for the rest of the film - but somewhere in the middle. The ending sequence is the best part and the only one that is better than the original. Using onscreen walls as editing wipes to show what become of the characters after the last dance is a good artistic stamp (credit that to director Peter Chelsom). However, this remake is best enjoyed if you have never seen the original Suo's version (or don't intend to), or if you are fond of any or all of the three stars.
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