There's fun to be had if you aren't demanding.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

To keep the American dance fantasy whole, dance movies better have plenty of momentum, rhythm, and sentimental realization of dreams. "Dance With Me" fails, but not badly. It lets us into the ballroom, at least intermittently. There's fun to be had if you aren't demanding.

Because it is rare when both halves of an American couple love to dance, one abandons the art because our Puritan heritage denies us the opportunity to dance a night away with another, not our spouse. The singular exception is competitive ballroom dancing and the dance schools that feed it. It is to these schools that men and women go for the love of dance, not to meet singles, but to dance. Last year's "Shall We Dance" and the justly heralded "Strictly Ballroom" each played wonderfully to the fantasies of people who love to dance and don't get the chance.

Rafael Infante, a young Cuban still mourning the loss of his mother, writes to the man his mother described as her first great love, her dance partner aboard a cruise ship. John Burnett (Kris Kristofferson) replies by inviting Rafael to visit him in Texas, where he runs a dance studio. Rafael is met at the airport by one of John's dance teachers, Ruby (Vanessa L. Williams), who steals his heart as she shakes his hand.

These people are involved in unfolding dramas of varying degrees of interest, and none of them, to understate the case, is gripping. That leaves the dancing. Kris Kristofferson, dance instructor, is a wooden stick figure, a crusty old fogie unimaginable in his profession. Vanessa L. Williams emotes fulsomely and with some tenderness as the dancer who practices without music in order to get it all just right.

Chayanne has a smile and a heart that light the theater. Almost ordinary when he's serious, he is transcendent when he smiles. But he is forced to hold his dancing in reserve for far too long while we wait for him to burst loose. When he does, his Latin rhythm and Ruby's stiffness collide. Not a great beginning for romance, but the outcome is never in doubt.

Director Randa Haines seems to have no clear vision of the path she needs to follow to the uplifting, rousing conclusion that such movies must deliver. Struggling to capture the vitality of "Strictly Ballroom," the movie wends its way to the championship competition in Las Vegas, but even then it lacks the emotional momentum that would let it take off. Why? Wrong people spinning wrong partners. The result: no chemistry, no fun. The filmmakers haven't given us a dancing couple to root for.

Everything could have been set right by pairing Williams and Chayanne on the dance floor in the first reel rather than the last. Even Joan Plowright, taking her good sport's moment in the spotlight, can't rescue this one by herself. But still, it's a dance movie, and we need lots of those.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 497
Studio : Columbia
Rating : PG
Running time : 2h6m

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