Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights

Nobody was asking for a sequel to 1987's Dirty Dancing. Well, okay, so how about a "reimagining?" Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights is the "reimagining" of the original movie. Aside from the title, basic plot, and a cameo from Patrick Swayze (Waking Up in Reno, Donnie Darko), this movie has nothing to do with the original. In fact, it is based partially on the life of co-producer and choreographer JoAnn Jansen (A Price Above Rubies, White Man's Burden). So why connect it to the original? Money. The original Dirty Dancing was a sensation. It wasn't a great film, but it was a guilty pleasure that has managed to sell an obscene number of copies on VHS and DVD (not to mention its soundtrack). Adding the words "dirty dancing" to the title instantly conjures up images of the original, even if the two are only marginally related.

This one takes place in 1958 Havana, on the eve of the Cuban Revolution. Unfortunately, the film decides to merge both the plot and the world events in the final act of the film. It throws off what little story there is, and doesn't fit well with the rest of the story. The same thing was tried in The Dreamers, and it didn't work there either. Credited screenwriters Boaz Yakin (A Price Above Rubies, Fresh) and Victoria Arch (Miriam Cornsweig's Farewell Performance, Working Freedom) aren't really working with much. Girl meets boy, girl cannot dance, boy teaches girl to dance and then they fall in love.

The girl in question is Katey Miller (Romola Garai, I Capture the Castle, Nicholas Nickleby), whose parents emigrated to follow her father's job. Katey is preparing for college. She is pretty, but not afraid to use her mind, which intimidates men. She doesn't exactly follow the fashion trends either, which brings the contempt of the other girls her age. She unintentionally gets one of the waiters at her hotel fired, and later sees him dancing on the streets of Havana. She can ballroom dance, and is fascinated by the sensuality of this newfangled thing she sees. Of course she strikes up a friendship with Javier (Diego Luna, Open Range, Frida), which eventually turns into love (gasp - a forbidden love!). She hears about a local dance competition with a cash prize, and she enters with Javier as a way to assuage her guilt over his job.

What follows is a series of scenes showing the two together, practicing for the big dance. Director Guy Ferland (After the Storm, Delivered) needs to show noticeable improvement in Garai's dancing ability, and doesn't. It's a shame that Garai and Luna decided to do this film. Their roles require very little of them except the ability to dance, which, well, won't amount to much in the long run. They both have had success elsewhere, but the one good thing is that rabid young girls who will devour this film will be seeing these two for the first time. For the most part, Garai has been in costumed art house fare (and to see how good she is watch I Capture the Castle, a much better romance), and Luna's claim to fame is the raunchy Y Tu Mama Tambien. They should get a nice boost of publicity, but not much else.

Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights does look great, from the cramped club where Javier practices to the contrast of the opulence of the hotel where the foreigners stay with the poorer streets inhabited by Cubans. The portrayal of the Cuban populace is pretty simplistic, and that's because they are secondary. The primary concern of this film is shoving a tired love story down the audience's throat. Luna and Garai do not have that much chemistry, and sometimes have some pretty awful lines. The music is good, and the dancing is decent, and, well, not that dirty in the first place. The sad part is, the best dancing doesn't occur at the contest, but in the clubs where Katey watches, awestruck at how these people let the music flow through their bodies.

Haro Rates It: Not That Good.
1 hour, 26 minutes, Rated PG-13 for sensuality.

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