Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights
February 26th, 2004
It's been 17 years since "Dirty Dancing" took the world by storm, and all these years later, "Havana Nights" is here to remind everyone just how to strike when the iron is ice cold. Labored and reliant on historical context nobody asked for, the "Dancing" magic is gone, and your money would be much better spent just renting the original film.
In 1958, Katey (Romola Garai, “I Capture the Castle”) and her family (including Sela Ward) have moved down to Havana, Cuba, right before the country is to be ripped apart by revolutionary forces. Katey tries to fit into the rich, white world of her fellow expatriates, but finds she really likes a busboy named Xavier (Diego Luna, “Open Range”). Xavier has been instructed to stay away from Katey, but she’s drawn to his dancing and his kindness. Defying the wishes of her parents, Katey enlists Xavier to help her win a local dance contest, while slowly falling in love with the boy in the process.
Since America last had the time of its life, the film has given birth to unexpected box office riches, blockbuster soundtrack sales, a television spin-off, numerous video and DVD releases, and a friggin’ concert tour (!). Since 1987, “Dirty Dancing” has become a true brand name, and an obsession for many. While attempts at sequels have been made over and over again through the years, the producers have finally given up hope trying to reunite Johnny and Baby. “Havana Nights” isn’t a continuation of the dancing saga, but a remake set in a different land and with all new relationships.
With Havana as the backdrop to this latest round of bumping and grinding, “Nights” is already situated to unleash a new generation of hot young stars sweating to the oldies. Under the eye of director Guy Ferland (“Telling Lies in America”), “Nights” is very quick to recreate just what made “Dancing” such a cultural smash, doubling up on steamy footwork and good-looking youth willing to shake their asses with little embarrassment. What’s odd about “Nights” is that all the familiarity plays out like the film was on fast forward, rushing through the well-known scenes of the virginal youth entranced by the sexy locals, and the disapproving community who try to separate the lovers. Granted, the story of “Dancing” is famous around the world, and doesn‘t need much detailing. But that doesn’t excuse Ferland from trying to coast on the framework of the original, and not taking the time to develop his characters or his conflicts.
Another misstep of the movie’s “reimagining” is the loss of intimacy due to the setting. Havana at the height of its political turmoil in the 1950s is an interesting idea, but “Nights” is a picture built on the foundation of creating a sticky attraction zone between Xavier and Katey, and battling revolutionaries trying to overthrow the government violently doesn’t help matters in the least. Actor chemistry is constantly interrupted for the sake of political context, and who really needs that in a “Dirty Dancing” film? It shatters what are two very good performances from Diego and Garai, and at one point, unexpectedly interrupts the dancing of the title. Now what’s the point of that?
Equally as peculiar is a cameo from Patrick Swayze. Coming into the picture out of nowhere, and unidentified purposely for continuity reasons, Swayze just simply shows up to give Katey a pep talk and dance with her for a minute or two. Seeing Swayze hoof it again is a solid reminder just how good he is (or was), and his little moment makes the rest of the “act first, dance second” cast look pretty bad in comparison. Swayze’s there for nostalgia, but did it have to be such a weird placement in this lackluster film?
My rating: D+