Dance With Me (1998) / Drama-Romance

MPAA Rated: PG for some sensuality and language
Running Time: 126 min.

Cast: Vanessa Williams, Chayanne, Kris Kristofferson, Joan Plowright, Jane Krakowski, Beth Grant, Harry Groener
Director: Randa Haines
Screenplay: Daryl Matthews
Review published June 30, 2005

Inspired by crowd-pleasing films such as Strictly Ballroom and Shall We Dance?, Dance With Me is an attempt to take what was most fun about those foreign films and put them into a more palatable format for American audiences.  While the results aren't quite as satisfying, thanks to some hot dancing and hotter Latin music, the film does touch all of the right bases to end up being a worthwhile offering for those who love dance films.

Like most films revolving around the world of dance, the pace of the film sags when the drama takes center stage, and that's certainly true of Dance With Me.  It features a typical fish-out-of-water storyline of the new guy, here a young Cuban man named Rafael (Chayanne), who has traveled to the United States to find the father he never knew.  This father, John Burnett (Kristofferson, Blade), runs a dance studio in Texas, and due to the fact that he remembers Rafael's mother fondly, he agrees to let the younger man come to work helping out in the studio while he looks for his dad, although he doesn't realize that it is him.  Meanwhile, Rafael starts to get the hots for the local dance queen, a former professional performer named Ruby (Williams, Shaft), but after a failed relationship with her previous dance partner, she has resisted falling for someone again until her career is back on track.

If anything, Dance with Me is a showcase for the impressive talent of former Miss America Vanessa Williams, who displays a very good deal of her own dance moves, in addition to giving one of the better performances of her career in the acting department.  She shows she is much more than a pretty face and a hot bod, although she shows enough of those things to satisfy many of her admirers as well.

On a secondary level, this is also the first attempt at introducing Latin singing sensation Chayanne to mainstream American audiences, although his fame would only survive the running length of this film, as he has yet to perform in a film since.  He has the looks, the smile (he smiles a LOT!), and some decent dance moves of his own, but somehow lacks the screen presence to match up well with the older and more talented Williams, especially since he is a marginal actor at best. 

The supporting cast includes Joan Plowright (Bringing Down the House), used mostly as comic relief, and Kris Kristofferson, although my personal feeling is that he is miscast here.  Not only does he look nothing like Chayanne to believe they share some of the same genes, but Kristofferson just doesn't exude the grace and poise to believe he was once a great dancer in his own right.     

While the father/son relationship doesn't offer many thrills or surprises, and the potential romance between Rafael and Ruby seems to lack any real chemistry, Dance with Me excels when it should, with some very well choreographed dance routines performed by an attractive cast.  Just like its brethren in Dirty Dancing, when the performers stop talking and start dancing, it all comes alive, and since the last hour of Dance with Me involves a Latin Dance Competition in Vegas, that's also where most of the best scenes reside.  Ironically, as the dialogue dies down, the dramatic aspects actually begin to pay off, as the proud father looks on, and the would-be lovers finally get their moments to shine together.

All in all, how much you enjoy Dance with Me greatly depends on what you expect going in.  If you want drama or great romance, this isn't the best choice, although there are some touching elements to the story.  However, if you want to see fantastic dancing performed to some excellent Latin music, Dance with Me definitely delivers.  Given the title, it's a safe guess you'll be looking for the latter if you decide to watch this.  

Qwipster's rating:

2005 Vince Leo