2004-11-05 / Columnists

‘Shall We Dance” – Midlife Hoofer

“Gotta Dance” was the name of an old Gene Kelly-MGM showstopper, but it could be actor Richard Gere’s current credo. After showing off his dancing shoes in the hit, “Chicago,” he has is now strutting his stuff in a new film called, “Shall We Dance?”

Based on a 1996 Japanese movie, “Shall We Dance?” is feel-good fun, which, strangely combines “Dirty Dancing, “Saturday Night Fever” and “Unfaithful.” Gere makes it work. He is sincere in the leading man role of  lawyer John Clark battling a midlife crisis with his belief in the rejuvenating power of ballroom dancing. John’s steamy attraction to smoldering dance instructor Paulina (Jennifer Lopez) is where “Dance” veers into the troubled waters of “Unfaithful.” In fact, John is first drawn into Miss Mitzi’s dance classes as he rides home on the commuter train and spots Paulina forlornly gazing out of a classroom window.

Through most of “Dance,” Paulina keeps her passion in check, letting John bounce around between the substantial supporting cast (Stanley Tucci, Omar Benson Milller, Bobby Cannavale, Anita Gillette, Lisa Ann Walter), who provide comic relief at the dance class. However, the heat rises when Paulina gives John a private lesson in rumba, which she defines as “a vertical expression of a horizontal wish.”

Still, John is a good family man and doesn’t step over the line. His wife, Beverly (Susan Sarandon), grows suspicious over his late nights out and hires an investigator (Richard Jenkins), who confirms that John is simply a closet danceoholic.

The question is... why doesn’t John invite Beverly into his secret world?

The quandary culminates at the big dance contest, where Beverly and their teenage daughter make a surprise appearance. When he hears, “Go, Daddy!,” John becomes befuddled and steps on the ballroom gown of his partner, Bobbie (Walter), ripping it off and exposing her underwear.

Audrey (“Under Tuscan Sun”) Wells blows away the adulterous intrigue to settle on a family-happy finale.

While “Shall We Dance?” may be dramatically at cross purposes, it’s fun and infectious the way Gene Kelly would want it.

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