In 1996's Japanese sleeper hit Shall We Dance?, Koji Yakusho stars as a repressed-unto-invisibility salaryman who blooms when he begins taking dance classes on a whim. The film's commercial success seemed attributable to its broad humor and crowd-pleasing embrace of formula, but its creative success came from its grasp on the subtleties of self-denial and introversion, as well as its command of the small details that signal a life of quiet desperation. Peter Chelsom's brassy new American remake doesn't just retain the earlier movie's crowd-pleasing aspects; it pumps them full of steroids while chucking all that unsexy subtlety. In the process, Chelsom has transformed a low-key charmer into an overblown shtick-com whose idea of restraint only extends to forgoing wacky sound effects, a laugh track, and amplified rim-shots every time a character delivers a wisecrack.
Playing anything but an anonymous man in a gray flannel suit, Richard Gere stars as a wealthy, successful lawyer and confident family man in the midst of what appears to be an extraordinarily mild midlife crisis. Riding home from work one day, he spies dance-school employee Jennifer Lopez staring out a window, wearing the stern look and tight little frown that make up her entire performance. Intrigued, he begins taking classes at a rundown dance school, a diversion he keeps from his wife, Susan Sarandon.
In the original film, Yakusho's decision not to tell his wife about the classes invigorating his life made sense coming from a repressed man in a repressed society. But in Chelsom's empty remake, Gere's decision to keep his dancing a secret feels like a plot device; he doesn't seem repressed at all, and a loving, open, supportive wife like Sarandon would likely welcome his new hobby. Sweet but fuzzyheaded, Shall We Dance? surprises only via its welcome decision to set a late montage to Peter Gabriel's cover of Stephin Merritt's "The Book Of Love." A battered cynic's love song of wounded romanticism, the bittersweet track nevertheless feels out of place in a film whose concept of romance feels as corny as a Sweetest Day card.