Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights

on February 27, 2004 by Kim Williamson
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In the 1987 "Dirty Dancing" and 2004's Havana-set remake, the settings of the stories are virtually the same except in their particulars: A Catskills resort, a Havana hotel; pre-JFK assassination America, pre-Batista overthrow Cuba. In each, a quiet young rich girl with a thirst for life--then Jennifer Grey, now Romola Garai--meets up with a working-class lad fired by a love for music--then Patrick Swayze, now Diego Luna--and learns the ways of the dance floor and of romance. Both tales are said to be based, in some way, on real events. A key difference is that, in the new "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights," Garai's character has a background that explains why she takes to the art so quickly: Her parents were dancers in their youth. But another key difference is that only in the new film does, to all appearances, the leader of a country decide to flee his nation because he hears that a waiter has a gun--in a scene in which Luna's rebel brother, unsuccessfully trying his way with revolution, manages to disrupt the dance contest for which Garai's and Luna's characters have toiled so long and hard to win. It's rather as if, in the "Dirty Dancing" climax, instead of equipoising high above Johnny Castle Baby had crashed to the floor.

To that late point, however, "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights" in director Guy Ferland's hands evokes its colorful and tumultuous landscape with the same era-capturing effectiveness as did the late Emile Ardolino in his earlier work. Garai, ardent and argent as always, brings the same lusty sweetness to her character as did Grey. Luna, though lacking the pro dancer's moves of a Swayze, offers a human warmth; for those missing the man who was Johnny Castle, Swayze--still in fine form--makes an appearance as, you guessed it, a dance teacher for mostly matronly females. Starring Romola Garai, Diego Luna, Sela Ward, John Slattery and Mika Boorem. Directed by Guy Ferland. Written by Boaz Yakin and Victoria Arch. Produced by Lawrence Bender and Sarah Green. A Lions Gate release. Romance. Rated PG-13 for sensuality. Running time: 86 min

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