Solid on the dancing, light on the love

Love N' Dancing isn't a "Lifetime Original Movie." Not yet. But you can hear the commercials for it as you watch it.

"She couldn't feel until she learned to move. He couldn't hear until he listened to his heart. And switched on his hearing aid."

This edge-free competitive dance drama doesn't drift much from its formula -- pretty school teacher (Amy Smart of the Crank movies) lives in the shadows with dullish fiancé ( Billy Zane) until she starts taking West Coast Swing Dance lessons from the two-time U.S. champ, Jake (Tom Malloy).

A twist? Jake's legally deaf. He switches off his hearing aid to avoid distraction while he dances. And he's graceful only on the dance floor. A pretty woman gives him two left feet unless they're dancing.

Jessica Donovan (Smart) is asked the darnedest things by her students. "Miss Donovan, why are you so sad?"

Could it be that she's not really in love with the workaholic businessman, Kent (Zane), whom she's engaged to marry? When Kent stands her up for wedding dance lessons with Jake, the dancer passes judgment.

"He'd rather talk on the phone than dance with you?"

Of course Jake and Jessica are fated to be together, of course she'll get him to "stop using your deafness as a crutch" and she'll blossom and they will compete as a couple.

And there'll be dancing -- funked-up, rocked-out swing dancing with guys in funny shirts and athletic women with pasted on sparkles and pasted on smiles for the judges.

A nice moment thrown in by filmmaker Robert Iscove ("From Justin to Kelly, With Love"): Jessica practices her moves as she walks down a Philadelphia street. Billy Zane is fun to watch, giving an offhanded charm to the generic heel he has to play here. He goofs, he riffs, he dodges gay dancers who want to pick him up, and he does a funny little dance himself. Caroline Rhea and Rachel Dratch have one amusing "friend to the leads" moment each.

But Malloy, who wrote the wan script as a vehicle for himself, is a liability. There's no spark between him and Smart, no magnetism that draws us to his character or his blasé performance. Jake has an ex (Nicola Royston) who longs to reconnect with him. But nothing about his moves, on or off the dance floor, really motivates that.

Yes, they got the dancing right. It's competently shot, and kudos for that. But "Love N' Dancing seriously shortchanges the "love" part. I guess "Friendship N' Dancing" wouldn't have that same Lifetime snap.

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