Masayuki Suo's Shall We Dance? became a favorite of moviegoers around the world when it opened in 1996. Thus, as they have done with so many acclaimed foreign films, American filmmakers have tried adapting it for U.S. audiences and come up with a version that is vastly inferior.
Richard Gere stars as John Clark, a father and a husband who finds his life has gone stale. He's lacking passion for anything, including his marriage. When he sees a beautiful woman (Jennifer Lopez) staring sadly out of a dance studio window, he's lured to set foot on the dance floor for the first time. There, he discovers that her name is Paulina, and she's an instructor with a troubled past. Motivated by his weaknesses, he enrolls in the class just to be near her. At home, his wife (Susan Sarandon) and daughter (Tamara Hope) grow suspicious of his long evening absences, while he steps carefully around the floor with his classmates (including Stanley Tucci, Bobby Cannavale, and Omar Miller).
And so the gear wheels of the plot begin to turn, awkwardly and, at times, predictably. Will John give in to his temptation and run off with the sexy instructor? Will he compete in the ballroom dance championships? Will his wife find out about his new obsession? Is his marriage doomed?
While Peter Chelsom's version of the film is strikingly different in tone and pace than the original, it has charms all its own, especially in the chemistry of the ensemble cast. But while it earns some cheers and some laughs, it remains a comedy trifle, one that tries too hard to please us. The cast attempt to merge the subtle flourishes of the original with the flamboyant, exaggerated comedy of Strictly Ballroom, and they frequently lose their balance; the comedy feels forced and falls flat. Still, when the dancers strut their stuff—especially in a much-anticipated, after-hours practice between John and Paulina—the movie musters enough magic to keep us engaged. Gere gives a winning, low-key performance, and Lopez is convincing (although she has yet to match her strong work in Out of Sight). Fortunately, the film can boast of having a strong moral center, one that honors marriage more than any commercial film in recent memory.
Camerin Courtney (Christianity Today Movies) says it's "simply a fun romantic comedy." But she concludes, "The original is classier, deeper, more poignant. Find it. Rent it. You'll love it." She points out that Chelsom's remake "eventually packs a refreshingly pro-marriage message" in spite of some "gratuitous," revealing costumes and glimpses of "dirty dancing."
Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films) says the screenwriter "can't translate what is essentially a Japanese identity crisis into American terms. Fans of the original will find the remake pointlessly dumbed down and at times needlessly crass." Still, he concludes that the movie "manages to be fitfully entertaining and ultimately even charming. How often does a Hollywood romantic comedy celebrate romance between a middle-aged couple in a longtime marriage?"
Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) says, "Although the American remake does not reach the joyous heights of the foreign film, it remains a delightful experience. For those familiar with the original film, it make take a bit longer to be drawn into the remake and stop making comparisons, but eventually the actors and director Peter Chelsom win out and win us over with a breezy, lightweight and happy little movie all their own."
Andrew Coffin (World) writes, "The first two-thirds of Dance have the breezy feel of a successfully polished romantic comedy … but there's an uneasy undercurrent that results from the married John's excessive interest in Paulina. The longer the film runs, the more the problematic this becomes—it's a serious, damaging choice, if made, that doesn't fit with the light tone." Coffin is pleased with the film's unconventionally moral conclusion, but dismayed by the final moments, which are "all over the map. Restraint, many in Hollywood fail to realize, can be a virtue."
Rhonda Handlon (Plugged In) says the movie "comes out … on the side of marriage." But she's concerned that one of John's fellow students "discovers" that "he's attracted to other men, implying that each end is acceptable and appropriate. It's a very minor plot point, but together with exasperating sexual jokes and spurts of foul language, it adds quite a bit of klutziness to what might have been a beautifully choreographed routine."
But Annabelle Robertson (Crosswalk) leaves the theatre dancing. "Do not be afraid! Just because it bears the name Jennifer Lopez doesn't mean it's a bad film … but this film isn't about her, anyway. It's about reigniting your life and your marriage by finding your passion. And it's a delightful, inspiring bit of cinema. The dialogue is funny, with some good laughs, and the acting couldn't be better."
Phil Boatwright (CBN) says, "I really wasn't looking forward to [it] … I simply expected the American version to be a misstep. I was pleasantly surprised. Our hero keeps this new interest a secret from his wife, but, well, I don't want to give anything away. Suffice it to say, this is not about adultery, but about a man finding his way and realizing what he has. Not as dimensional as the foreign version, but it is charming, with delightful performances from several supporting actors. What's more, marriage is lifted up."
Mainstream critics almost unanimously recommend that viewers see the original, but some of them are won over by the remake as well.
Caviezel joins Robin Williams, but The Final Cutdoesn't cut it
Writer/director Omar Naim is earning compliments for providing some thought-provoking science fiction along the lines of Minority Report, but most critics agree that The Final Cut is too flawed to earn raves.
Robin Williams plays Alan Hackman, who works as a "cutter," editing the recorded histories of people in a future world where all memories are recorded and archived. Hackman "cuts" undesirable memories in order to honor the dead and liberate them from the darker parts of their lives. But as he prepares "Re-memories"—presentations that amount to 'highlight reels' of a person's life for their loved ones to enjoy after they are gone—he runs into trouble from an activist (Jim Caviezel) who views the group's work as unethical.
Peter T. Chattaway (Christianity Today Movies) says it's "the latest in a series of intriguing, if flawed, films that explore where our technology might take us in the not-so-distant future. Most significantly, the film underscores the fact that the meaning of our lives ultimately comes from somewhere outside of ourselves."
Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) says, "Naim makes an auspicious debut with this intriguing film that works as both a thriller and a springboard for the discussion of moral or ethical questions. Perhaps a more experienced filmmaker might have handled some of the philosophical issues with a bit more flair or finesse but Naim strikes a nice balance in keeping the film both thought-provoking and entertaining."
Mainstream critics would like to see a different cut.
Team America arrested by morality police
Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the irreverent jokesters behind the hugely popular animated series South Park, are back on the big screen with their first puppet-driven extravaganza. And, true to form, Team America: World Police is an assault of crass, boundary-free humor that takes shots at everyone from Hollywood political activists to terrorists, even as it lampoons every action movie cliché in the book
And yet, while it's a rare comedy that targets liberals as vehemently as most target conservatives, Christian film critics are almost unanimous in their condemnation of the flick.
Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) sees the film as a step down from the South Park movie. "Parker and Stone, after so cavalierly thumbing their noses at those who find profanity unbecoming and unworthy of a sophisticated society, prove that they haven't matured much in five years. What's more, their irresponsibility in the way they utilize the free speech they have the privilege to claim is shameful. These anatomically incorrect puppets engage in non-stop profanity, simulated sexual activity, and graphic violence. The question which remains is not whether the film is funny or good … but rather is it appropriate for this time? It is difficult to imagine the insensitivity involved in a project … where characters, puppets though they be, are bloodily beheaded for comedic purposes."
Tom Neven (Plugged In) writes, "Content issues don't bother very many film critics, though, and most give Team America rave reviews. Anything so irreverent that skewers so many sacred cows is bound to be popular with reviewers. But this movie has much less to do with rocking boats than it has to do with insulting as many people as possible, and such ham-handed satire gives legitimate satire a bad name. Team America could have been a very funny movie, but Parker and Stone have no respect for anything or anyone."
Douglas Downs (Christian Spotlight) says it's "the MOST tasteless movie I have ever seen. (Is there a law against 'puppet abuse'?) It is extremely profane, and it takes all the 'pop' out of pop culture entertainment."
But Chris Utley (Hollywood Jesus) has a different response: "It is clear why this film will appeal to the high-school/20-something set. Even some of the 30-something folks will dig it. Let's face facts: the movie is hilarious! The stuff they do with these puppets is hilarious! The lyrics in the musical numbers are gut-busting! The one-liners are sidesplitting! The Michael Moore 'cameo' is outrageous! Like I said, it's rude, crude and laugh-out-loud funny! It's definitely among the funniest movies of the year. I'm recommending the flick … but only for the thick-skinned among us who have strong convictions and are open-minded with their comedy choices." He goes on to list his reasons for defending the film from its detractors.
At the very same Web site, Kevin Miller argues, "Despite all of these positive points, the main problem with this film is that these guys just don't seem to know when to stop." He then addresses the filmmakers directly. "In many ways, Team America was a brilliant film. But your propensity for crudity severely compromised the positive contribution this film could have made. At best, Team America offers a veneer of social commentary and some cheap laughs. But it could have done much, much more."
Cliff Vaughn (Ethics Daily) stakes out some middle ground. "It would be hard to deny the impressive production values of the movie. The marionette action is delightful, the sets are wonderfully constructed, and the way Parker and Stone satirize action-movie cliché s is spot-on. The filmmakers are no doubt talented … but most of the content is simply inappropriate for young minds, and some would say any minds. Don't be fooled by the marionettes, and don't take the kids."
Many mainstream critics are welcoming this barrage of irreverent humor.
More reviews of recent releases
I ♥ Huckabees: Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) writes, "Despite the clever philosophical rambling and world-sized questions many of the characters raise, nothingness is what this film amounts to. We simply wait for the circuitous logic to run its course and deposit us at the end of the film as clueless as we were when we started. In other words, we shouldn't expect this movie to take us anywhere … all we are supposed to do is enjoy the ride."
Next week: What critics are saying about Ray, the biopic of Ray Charles in which Jamie Foxx has supposedly turned in a performance worthy of Oscar consideration.
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