You may have read how the Hollywood version of the Japanese romantic comedy "Shall We Dance?" lost something in translation. I haven't seen the original, so I can't begin to tell you what that might be. I can tell you that although Peter Chelsom's version has more than a few problems, it's still entertaining.
For that, credit the charisma of Richard Gere and the talent of a supporting cast whose characters have more meat on their bones than usual. But a word of warning: this script by Audrey Wells ("Under the Tuscan Sun") is as close to a pure "chick flick" as it gets, for a number of reasons:
1) Women get to look lovingly at the suave Gere, knowing that his character, John Clark, is a little jaded by the routine of the estate cases he handles as a Chicago attorney. He also wants more than the wife (Susan Sarandon) and teen children (Tamara Hope, Stark Sands) he has--and women can fantasize he's actually availiable.
2) They get to watch Gere glide along on the dance floor, and there's plenty of after-work dancing (albeit mostly lessons). The message here is that real men dance, and one of the males even proclaims, "Football sucks." Yeah, right.
3) When Beverly Clark suspects her husband of having an affair, she hires a private attorney to follow him and get pictures. Only in a chick flick would the outcome be as innocuous as a husband taking dance lessons. Gere got more action in "First Knight," when, as Lancelot, he was supposed to be respecting the conventions of courtly love.
4) Only in a chick flick would the husband sign up to take dance lessons because he sees a beautiful Latina instructor (Jennifer Lopez) looking longingly out the window of Miss Mitzi's Dance Studio as if beckoning to him each day as he rides the El home from work, and then go through with it even though his instructor turns out to be old Miss Mitzi herself (Anita Gillette).
5) And (SPOILER HERE AND BELOW) only in a chick flick would the focus be on a teaser might-happen relationship, then turn on the romance between a husband and wife.
6) Finally, you know you're watching a chick flick when Richard Gere cries, dresses formal, and arrives via escalator carrying a rose to present in public to his beloved.
It's fairly contrived, and the flashbacks turn out to be unintentionally comic. But as my wife (who's more an expert on chick flicks than I am) pointed out, at least we were spared the sassy gal-pal of the lead female or a scene where the sisters all bond over karaoke or the female lead sings an anthem of empowerment alone at home. And it's a little refreshing that as these beginning dancers compete in an amateur ballroom dance contest, they're realistically not all that successful.
If this were a feminist film instead of a chick flick, the best actor would have gotten far more scenes. As it is, Sarandon seems wasted as the wife, though she's able to do far more with her on-screen emotions than J-Lo, who came up through the ranks as a dancer. There are very few scenes that have to do with John's home life or with the sexy Paulina (Lopez). Instead, the bulk of the sequences have to do with John's partners in his secret life: the brassy, bleach-blonde Bobbie (Lisa Ann Walter), the gotta-dance-to-get-laid loser Chic (Bobby Cannavale), the overweight Vern (Omar Miller), and John's less-than-masculine colleague from work, Link (Stanley Tucci), who covers his baldness and blandness by dressing like Will Ferrell in "Blades of Glory." Though all of the characters have a surprising amount of development, it's Walter and Tucci who make the most of it. Take them out of the equation, and I'm not sure how entertaining this move is. They carry it almost as much as Gere, while Lopez does little more than flash those "looks," only coming to life in a single scene.
There are some logic problems with the script, but those minor characters plus Richard Jenkins as an affable P.I. are enough to make us smile while we wait for the inevitable to happen. That puts "Shall We Dance?" squarely in the okay category.
In 1080p (AVC/MPEG-4), "Shall We Dance?" has a nice glossy look, though it's not as three-dimensional as some of the better Blu-rays. The detail level is there, with sharp edges and a clarity that comes across in shadow as well as light. This one is "enhanced," meaning the 1.85:1 picture stretches across the whole 16x9 monitor.
It's been awhile since I've reviewed a PCM soundtrack on a Blu-ray release, and I have to say that I still think it's one of the strongest. There's just a gum-popping clarity to it, and PCM does a better job of spreading the sound across the room, driving it beyond the sound source. This uncompressed soundtrack (48kHz/24-bit) does as well with faint sounds as with the robust music. Additional options are English, French, and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, with subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish.
Extras: Director Chelsom spends most of his commentary talking about the acting skills of the cast members. There's not nearly the amount of anecdotes and information that it takes to make one of these entertaining enough to watch the film all over again. A behind-the-scenes making-of featurette comes in around 20 minutes and offers the standard blend of clips and cast interviews, with, again, no earthshaking insights. Five deleted scenes averaging four minutes each are playable with or without commentary, and about all you can do is applaud Chelsom for cutting them. I looked forward to "Beginner's Ballroom," hoping for a mini-lesson (yep, I'm a sensitive guy), but all it turned out to be was another very brief feature on the cast in training, intercut with clips from old Hollywood movies that featured ballroom dancing. Where's Miss Mitzi when you need her?
The only other bonus features are a music video ("Sway") from Pussycat Dolls, and a throwaway on "Behind the Music" that's not much longer than music video, so you can guess how much depth there is. I didn't think much of the bonus features.
This fluffy "chick flick" has some funny moments--as when two male co-workers practice their dance position together in the men's room and one has to fake passing out when the door opens. Gere is surprisingly light on his feet, but the script by Wells is even lighter.