However, as a still agile Swayze danced with the new movie's star, Romola Garai, it dawned on me: The new movie needed Swayze, or rather his hunky heir. Part of what made the original Dirty Dancing so appealing was Swayze's presence. Physically, you couldn't take your eyes off him, and he had a cool, aloof sex appeal that set up good girl Grey to fall madly in love with him. And Grey did a masterful job falling for his charms, slowly and assuredly.
In Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights we get Y Tu Mamá También's Diego Luna, who is built like a stick figure and doesn't have anywhere near the physical allure of Swayze. What's worse, he's paired up with Garai, who is tall and on the voluptuous side. He's supposed to lead her, control her body? She looks like she can throw him around like pizza dough.
Miscasting is just one of the many issues that plague Havana Nights, which rips off the original Dirty Dancing storyline and does nothing inventive with it aside from changing the locale. In the newer movie, it's Cuba in 1958 and overachiever Katey Miller (Garai, so good in I Capture the Castle) appears to be headed on the right track, despite her family's move from America. Then she meets Javier (Luna), a waiter at the family's posh hotel.
Of course, the kids don't get along at first, but soon Katey discovers Javier doing some sexy Cuban shimmying and she's coming undone. They decide to partner for a big dance contest, and soon succumb to their passions. The movie would have been far more interesting if Javier had coerced Katey out of her academic shell, but director Gus Ferland and eight screenwriters are impatient: Within the movie's first 15 minutes, Katey is wearing a dress so tight that breathing can only be accomplished with a machine. Keep in mind that minutes before she was dressed like a librarian on Leave It To Beaver.
The filmmakers' short attention span extends throughout the entire movie. January Jones pops up as a Katey's archrival and quickly disappears. So does Katey's beau (Jonathan Jackson), who proves to be a jerk and then pretty much vanishes. Aspects of the revolution against Batista are thrown around solely to create tension that isn't even needed. There isn't a narrative here, so much as a series of quick, weak dramatic scenes sandwiching lots of dancing scenes.
We never grow to like, or even know, any of the characters. If we did, we might be able to appreciate Katey and Javier's romance as more than just a series of MTV-type shots, or understand what drove Katey's white collar parents (Sela Ward and John Slattery) away from their dancing career. I saw Dirty Dancing again a couple of months ago and what struck me was how much I cared for the characters, especially Grey's. That's what made the dancing sexy, and the movie so engaging. In Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, the audience is given the cinematic equivalent of a one-night stand. Forget about the characters and their problems; just watch the tight bodies writhe and sweat.
You can definitely put this movie in the corner.
Bring out the mambo kings!
Run time: 86 mins
In Theaters: Friday 27th February 2004
Box Office USA: $14.1M
Box Office Worldwide: $27.7M
Distributed by: Artisan Entertainment
Production compaines: Lions Gate Films, Miramax Films, Lawrence Bender Productions, Havana Nights LLC, Artisan Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 22%
Fresh: 24 Rotten: 83
IMDB: 6.0 / 10
Director: Gus Ferland
Starring: Diego Luna as Javier Suarez, Romola Garai as Katey Miller, Sela Ward as Jeannie Miller, John Slattery as Bert Miller, Jonathan Jackson as James Phelps, January Jones as Eve, Mika Boorem as Susie Miller, René Lavan as Carlos Suarez, Mýa as Lola Martinez, Polly Cole as Polly, Chris Engen as Steph, Tommy Kavelin as Señor Alonso, Wilmer Cordero as Teacher, Charlie Rodriguez as Grandpa Suarez, Donato Poveda as Troubador, Oskar Rodriguez as Dancer