Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights

Copyright © 2004 by Tony Medley

Dirty Dancing (1987) was a phenomenon, a very popular film that established Patrick Swayze as a star. So, why not a sequel? While it might not be a bad idea, the filmmakers should have learned from Dirty Dancing that if you’re going to make a movie about dancing, cast a dancer in the starring role.

Patrick Swayze was a trained professional. I know because my niece, Connie, was his partner when she was in ballet training at Tania Lichine’s ballet studio in Beverly Hills in the early ‘80s when nobody knew who Patrick Swayze was. He studied and worked hard at becoming the dancer he is today. Alas, the filmmakers of Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights cast actors who are not professionally trained dancers in the two leads. And it shows.

As Cuba is on the verge of Castro’s takeover from Fulgencio Batista at Christmastime, 1958, 18-year-old Katey Miller (Romola Garai) is forced to move to Havana because her father has been transferred there by his employer. She meets Javier Suarez (Diego Luna) a waiter at a posh hotel. While walking to school she discovers that Javier is an accomplished dancer of Latin rhythms. Dancing Instructor Patrick Swayze encourages her to enter the hotel’s dancing contest, so she teams up with Javier. The finals are on the night Batista flees Cuba and Castro enters Havana.

Luna, fresh off a critically acclaimed performance in Y Tu Mama También (not acclaimed by this critic, however), seems to generate enough sex appeal to inspire teenage girls. Although the dancing sequences have borrowed from the cinematography used in Chicago (2002) to mask the actors’ dancing deficiencies by using quick cuts and never straying for long on the dancers moves, Luna seems adequate. The same can’t be said for Garai, however. Not only does she say her lines like she’s reading them, her dance steps are contrary to the advice given her by both Swayze and Javier, to relax and let her body react to the rhythm.

Not to worry. This is a simple love story. Despite the title, and that the story revolves around dancing, there’s not that much dancing. One thing I liked about it was that even though Katey has to hide her relationship with Javier, because he is, in her parents' eyes, nothing more than a Cuban waiter while her family is Anglo elite (implying that this was the cause of the revolución), she still respects both her parents, they allow her the latitude a daughter needs, and the moral of the film is that she accepts that they know best.

Although I did not like Y Tu Mama También, I do like Luna in this movie. This is a pretty simple 86-minute love story. While it doesn’t rival the Robert Redford Vehicle, Havana (1990), a movie I though much underrated, it does take a superficial look at the state of Havana at the time of Castro’s takeover, and it is a sweet love story. If you’re going for the dancing, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment (Swayze has a few scenes  with Garai that unintentionally, but glaringly, show the difference between a professional and an amateur). If you’re not, Luna is very good, it’s got a good moral tone, and provides entertainment sophisticated enough to entrance a sophomore in high school.

February 24, 2004

The End