_Dance_with_Me_'s original title was _Shut_Up_and_Dance_, and that
confrontational moniker would have been a more apt name for this dance
musical. But it's not because the film in question is in-your-face
exuberant; rather, "Shut up and dance!" is likely what audience will be
saying to the characters of this draggy romantic drama that is too heavy on
talk and too light on fancy footwork.
Granted, the dancing that _is_ featured is quite impressive. The central
location of _Dance_with_Me_ is a Houston dance studio, and one of its
featured instructors is Ruby (Vanessa L. Williams), a former professional
Latin dance champion determined to recapture her former glory. Also
working at the studio, but as a handyman, is fresh-from-Cuba Rafael Infante
(Chayanne), an untrained but equally skilled dancer himself. The slightly
cool Ruby and the fiery Rafael (and, for that matter, Williams and
Chayanne) strike immediate sparks, but these two opposites truly ignite
when they dance together, generating a palpable sexual tension and
electricity with their sizzling salsa steps, nimbly choreographed by Daryl
Matthews and Liz Curtis.
Matthews also wrote the screenplay, and, frankly, he is overextended.
While the pas de deux between Ruby and Rafael is an engaging enough core,
the pro forma plot elements surrounding it are tedious filler. Rafael
comes to America to meet the father he never knew, John Burnett (Kris
Kristofferson), who owns the dance studio, which, in turn, is struggling to
stay afloat. Ruby, who has never stayed in one place long enough to have a
"home," is not eager to put down roots, geographically or emotionally.
Meanwhile, a big dance competition in Vegas looms in the immediate future.
Ironically, Matthews, a former professional dancer himself, piles on these
familiar, trite subplots so heavily that they far outweigh the dancing in
terms of screen time.
Fortunately for Matthews and director Randa Haines, in Williams they have
a star who capably handles both the dance and dramatic chores. Though her
character's baggage is strictly by the book, Williams is able to breathe
some depth into Ruby, especially in one climactic dance where her eyes
speak volumes of feeling. As it is widely known, Williams also has vocal
chops to match, and her wide-ranging talents would make her an ideal star
for a lavish Hollywood screen musical (that is, should a studio ever be
game enough to mount one). The jury, however, is still out on her co-star,
Chayanne, who is a major music star in Latin America. He certainly can
move well on the dance floor, but he is rather stiff everywhere else,
likely due to unease with the English language. Haines tries to hide
Chayanne's unease by making him flash his megawatt smile every other
second, but no amount of smiling can bail you out of a film as surprisingly
talk-heavy as this.
In the press notes, producer Lauren C. Weissman says, "What initially
attracted me to this script was the human drama." Ironically, the
attraction for Weissman is exactly what will keep most audiences _away_
from _Dance_with_Me_, a film that falls short as a dance extravaganza, and,
for that matter, as a "human drama."