Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights

Posted on February 13, 2004 at 4:30 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Tense scenes of political unrest, attempted assassination
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2004

Somebody, please put this baby in a corner.

Before we get into the reasons, let’s recap briefly why the original Dirty Dancing was so irresistibly watchable, because that will remind us of everything that this version is missing. The original had: Jennifer Gray, who lit up the screen. Wonderfully steamy dancing and music that made you long for summer nights in the Catskills. The sparks and even wit that Gray and Patrick Swayze brought to each other. A genuine sense of lessons learned and hearts expanded. All of this made up for an unabashedly cheesy script and everyone went home happy.

Despite the name, this movie is not a sequel. In Hollywood terms, it is a “re-imagining” of the first film, which basically means it has attempted to recreate it but completely missed the point. It does not have the characters, setting, or plot of the original. It does not have the heart or the charm or the chemistry. Worst of all, it does not have the dancing.

There are some slinky moves, but the camera keeps cutting away from the big dance numbers for reaction shots. Since there is barely enough of a plot to sustain a heartbeat, this probably means that the leads were not good enough dancers to do several different steps in a row, and it was intended to be distracting, pretty much defeating the entire purpose of the movie in the first place.

It all takes place before the first movie, in 1958 Cuba, just before Castro’s revolution. Kate (Romola Garai) and her family have just arrived. It does not take her long to figure out that the other American kids are rich snobs and that what she really wants to do is dance with the pool boy, Javier (Diego Luna). Her parents (James Slattery and Sela Ward) were once dancers, but gave it up to provide a conventional and comfortable home for their family. While they think she is with the boy they want her to date, she is off practicing with Javier so they can enter the dance contest and he can win enough money to take his family to America.

I have seen mayonnaise with more personality than the stars of this movie. And I have seen jello with more excitement than the plot of this movie. It isn’t that Garai and Luna have no chemistry with each other. They have anti-chemistry so powerful it seems to slow down the whole time-space continuum.

There’s a subtle reprise of the first movie’s theme song and Patrick Swayze appears briefly as a dance teacher, just to underscore’s this version’s inferiority.

Parents should know that the movie is rated PG-13 “for sensuality,” but that it is very mild compared to most PG-13 releases. As per the title, the dancing is suggestive. There is a discreet sexual situation — a couple spend the night together on the beach and the next morning she is wearing his shirt. Characters drink and smoke and use some mild language, including an ugly racial epithet. There is some violence connected with the revolution, but nothing graphic.

Families who see this movie should learn more about what happened in Cuba in the 1950’s and the results of the revolution led by Fidel Castro. They should talk about why Kate lied to her parents and how they feel about the way Kate blackmailed James into lying for her. Fans of the original movie should talk about what a better sequel would have included.

Families who enjoy this movie should watch the splendid documentary Buena Vista Social Club about Cuban musicians and their music. And of course they should watch the original Dirty Dancing.

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