A remake of Masayuki Suo's 1996 worldwide hit of the same name, 'Shall We Dance?' is typical of Americanized versions of flavorful foreign cinematic recipes. It grinds down many of the unique ingredients of the original and produces some bland mush, while still retaining the same basic premise. Yet, while 'Shall We Dance?' won't erase fond memories of the original, on its own terms it's a pleasant and surprisingly marriage-minded little concoction.
Richard Gere plays John Clark, husband to Beverly (Susan Sarandon), who's suffering the middle-aged blues. His life lacks sparkle and passion, and his marriage lacks sizzle. Then he sees the beautiful, forlorn dance instructor Paula (Jennifer Lopez) staring out the window of a local dance studio. Smitten, and just a little bit reckless, he signs up for her class, hoping to explore the flirtation while still playing by the "rules" of monogamy.
Soon John's long evening absences begin to concern Beverly, as well as their daughter (Tamara Hope), and even some of his fellow classmates (including Stanley Tucci and Bobby Cannavale) exchange knowing glances about the growing chemistry between him and Paula. The plot really shifts into gear when Paula taps a private detective (Richard Jenkins) to follow John, and eventually discovers his "affair." Will John succumb to the temptation and dance away with Paula, especially as he's preparing for the big championship dance competition despite Paula's growing suspicions?
'Shall We Dance?' reminds me of a "So You Think You Can Dance?" version of the little-remembered Gere film 'Intersection.' The story is essentially the same, albeit the device is dance, not drama -- Gere must choose between two women (his older wife, and a younger woman) at the middle-aged crossroads of his life. It's hardly new material, and it's certainly familiar to Gere (who has been excelling at playing these kind of conflicted characters lately). If director Peter Chelsom never does achieve the same light-yet-serious tone of the original 'Shall We Dance?', Gere does another fine job of conveying John's conflicting emotions -- his sense of loyalty versus the undeniable attraction to his new dance infatuation -- enough that he holds together the basic premise.
Where the new 'Shall We Dance?' stumbles is in going too broad with its comedy. The Gere-Lopez and Gere-Sarandon scenes all ring true, with nice understated chemistry between the leads, but Chelsom injects some other flights of fancy that fall flat. Tucci goes a bit overboard with the flamboyant "comedic relief" (he's about as subtle as C-3PO), while the underrated Cannavale is pretty much dropped from the movie after the first half. And while the dance sequences are well-staged and often quite sexy, the film again interjects too much intentionally slapstick-y, 'Strictly Ballroom' like shenanigans which only distract from the main action.
'Shall We Dance?' is ultimately worth a watch if only because it offers an unusual take on your typical "mid-life crisis, man-has-an-affair" movie. I won't spoil the film's ending, but it's rare to find a movie that manages to observe and understand the male urge to seek solace outside of a stale marriage, yet doesn't make adultery seem cute or coy. Which is why it's a shame that Chelsom didn't have more faith in the dramatic underpinnings of his story. By going too broad, 'Shall We Dance?' lacks bite. It's just enough fun to warrant a watch, but isn't nearly as meaty as it could have been.
Disney presents 'Shall We Dance?' in 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video. And it looks smashing.
It's rare that I have high expectations for the transfers of romantic comedies on Blu-ray, much less a movie like 'Shall We Dance?' which, quite frankly, hardly screams demo material, but this presentation is a wower considering the material. I was amazed at the level of detail and dimensionality -- it's truly like looking out of a picture window at times. Colors are intensely saturated (to the edge of oversaturation, but they never fall off). Blacks are pitch perfect and contrast is excellent -- the image has tons of depth but remains natural. Sharpness is likewise right on target, and I noticed no artifacts. My only nitpick is that the source has a few speckles, though they are minor. 'Shall We Dance?' looks ten times better than I expected.
Audio comes in uncompressed PCM 5.1 Surround (48kHz/24-bit), along with Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps) and subtitle options in English, French and Spanish. The mix sounds good, but is a bit less impressive against the video.
The best aspects of the audio are the excellent dynamics. The mix veers from loud to soft and back again with great dexterity, and plenty of vibrancy. The music sounds very warm and lush, while dialogue is well-balanced throughout. Low bass is also tight, and never overpowers the mix. Surround use, however, is pretty dull. The rears are rarely engaged for anything outside of score bleed and minor ambient sounds. Granted, a film like 'Shall We Dance?' doesn't need any real bombast, but I would have enjoyed a more active and engaging soundfield.
'Shall We Dance?' hits Blu-ray long after the standard DVD, and ports over all the same extras. Video quality hasn't been upgraded for HD, however, with only 480p/i/MPEG-2 offered. (Optional English, French and Spanish subtitles are offered on all the goodies.)
'Shall We Dance?' is an entertaining and perfectly enjoyable romantic comedy. Though essentially slight, the dance sequences and music elevate the film above the merely routine. This Blu-ray is anything but, with unexpectedly terrific video, and strong enough audio and supplements. 'Shall We Dance?' is not a must-have, but fans will certainly be pleased.