As a kid I thought the dumbest movie I'd ever seen was the Disney animated feature "Lady and the Tramp," which idealized a canine romance. In one sequence, a landmark of anthropornorphic kitsch, Tramp, a streetwise mutt, and Lady, a demure cocker, shared their first kiss over a spaghetti dinner while being serenaded by the hearty, solicitous proprietor of an Italian restaurant.
Wonders never cease: "Lady and the Tramp" has reappeared in the guise of a shamelessly maudlin and idiotic romance about nominal humans called "Slow Dancing in the Big City." The infatuated mismatch, an earnest softie of a newspaperman called Lou Friedhandler (Paul Sorvino, in what appears to be homage to Jimmy Breslin) and an agoniedz ballerina named Sarah Grantz (Anne Ditchburn of the National Ballet of Canada) who faces career-ending surgery, even have their first date at an Italian restaurant.
It's an evening of rare delights. When first proposing the outing, Lou jokes, "You've gotta sing for your linguini." Sarah proves herself worthy of his level of wit by gaily responding, "Can I cha-cha for my cacciatore?"
Lou is welcomed at the restaurant like a member of the family. In fact, just about everybody in New York seems to know Lou and consider him a member of the family. "Slow Dancing" evolves into a veritable mother lode of unintentional laughs, and one of the surest sources of humor is the constant reminder of how the name Lou Friedhandler is revered throughout the Big Town. It's like saying "Open Sesame." Even Sarah's fellow dancers oh and ah when Lou turns up to audit a rehearsal of her work-in-progress, a primitivist erotic banality called "Forest Dreams."
Anyway, the usual red carpet is out for Lou when he walks into the restaurant. Learning that he's squiring a real-life ballerina, the little daughter of the owner turns to her grandmother and asks, "Grandma, can I be a dancer when I grow up?"
The dear old soul answers in no uncertain terms: "This is America! You can be anything you want!"
After linguini and cacciators, or whatever, Sarah inquires about the special vision that makes Lou the city's favorite sob sister, described as "The Heart of the Apple" in ads by his own paper, the Daily News. "How come," she asks, "when I walk around New York, everythink looks so icky and you walk around and see great stories?"
Lou opens his great big yearning spongy heart to her. "If we can beat the odds against New York," he confides, "we can do anything . . . We can turn the garbage into roses."
Perhaps at a loss for words, Sarah remarks, "You're a poet."
Lou tells Sarah she's beautiful, which seems safe. The next day he feels confident enough to being calling her "twinkletoes." What doggedly devoted Lou doesn't realize is that his beloved Twinkletoes happens to be a tearjerking human interest story worthy of his own column. Sarah is driving herself mercilessly because she's determined to dance the premiere of "Forest Dreams" before surrendering her frail femoral muscles to the surgeon's knife.
The denouncement cries out for a reunion of Carol Burnett and Harvey Korman. On the night of the premiere Lous dashes from the hospital, where one of his subjects, a slum urchin he was touting as the next Gene Krupa, has died from a drug overdose, just in time to make the closing steps of "Forest Dreams." Sarah's suffering limbs give out moments after the curtain rings down. Sarah insists that Lou carry her out for her bow and so he does.
Barra Grant, the author of this madcap drivel, and John Avildsen, who has directed it as if he cherished each fraudulent moment, obviously felt they were presenting the public with a touching romatic bouquet. Perhaps the success of "Rocky" inspired Avildsen to entertain the delusion that the was a master Heartwarmer. Despite the filmmaker's rosy intentions, "Slow Dancing" redeemed only by the fact that it plays so ridiculously that you can't help enjoying the sublime dopiness of it all.
Sorvino's rumpled, colloquial amiability is corrupted on this occasion by the insipid nature of Lous Friedhandler. Incorrigible simps like Lous are cut out to the laughing stocks rather than romatic heroes.
Ditchburn has a fascinating exotic face - vaguely Eurasian, suggesting a cross of Merle Oberon with nancy Kwan. She appears to be a capable dancer, although "Forest Dreams" is hardly a stirring or conclusive vehicle. Unfortunately, she does not seem to possess an actress' expressive equipment. Her voice is badly constricted, a faint chime that gets obstructed somewhere up her nose or behind her teeth. She's pretty funny when she staggers or swoons with pain, but "Slow Dancing" has an even funnier case of the staggers and swoons.