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Dance With Me

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Dance With Me

Starring: Vanessa Williams, Chayanne
Director: Randa Haines
Rated: PG
RunTime: 126 Minutes
Release Date: August 1998
Genres: Romance, Drama, Music

*Also starring: Kris Kristofferson, Joan Plowright, Jane Krakowski, Beth Grant, William Marquez, Harry Groener, Rick Valenzuela

Review by MrBrown
2 stars out of 4

_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."

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