Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights

| March 3, 2004

When I walked into the Arc Light theatres in Los Angeles to see this film, I had three thoughts in my head. The first was the sequels were never as good as their predecessors. The second was that remakes were usually worse. And the third thought tinkering around in my head was the realization that I didn’t know which category Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights fell into, but I was sure it would follow suit. Having preprogrammed my mind to laughing off what could only be a horrible butchering of Emile Ardolino’s 1987 original, a film which I failed to find any entertainment value in, objectivity was going to be difficult state to achieve. In fact, I had already planned on writing a short piece of fiction in lieu of this review with the conclusion sating that I didn’t want to waste the reader’s time as the film was a waste of mine. This still might be a waste of your time, but somehow, this film has managed to better the original 17-year-old “chick flick”.
Don’t get me wrong. The theatre was empty. There were about 20 people and a purse dog in a room that could have comfortably sat 200. I missed several lines of dialogue as the two girls in front of me were laughing so loud at the blatant cheesiness. Furthermore, Patrick Swayze has taken on a gruesome Hollywood anti-aging look, which is impossible to take seriously. So don’t get me wrong. This movie stinks, but it is better than the original.
The story is basically the same, only transplanted to Cuba. Take out the pregnancy from the original and add a little Cuban politics via Castro’s revolution, and you get the script for Havana Nights. Javier Suarez (Diego Luna – Y Tu Mama Tambien) is caught up in the revolution as his father has been murdered by government soldiers for his free thinking and revolutionary views. Finding his passion in dancing, Javier remains a pacifist, unlike his older brother…a sentiment which has caused a major riff in the family. Working at an American hotel, he is the focal point of constant racism, until he meets Katey Miller (Romola Garai), a girl taken aback by his free spirit and dance floor moves. Javier, being fired from his hotel job for fraternizing with the guests is forced to work in his brother’s chop shop until Katey convinces him to join a dance competition with her…grand prize five thousand dollars. They fall madly in love thorough their practicing, and just as they are about to sweep the finals with their racy underground club style salsa, Javier’s brother attempts an assassination on a government leader in the audience. As everyone flees, Javier helps his brother escape, and they bond over their late father’s memory. Castro forces all American companies to leave the island, and the Miller family must say their goodbyes. Katey spends her last evening in the arms of her man, dancing in the gritty Cuban dance club with her parents (former professional dancers) looking on in admiration.
The acting was merely competent. The faces were merely average. The setting wasn’t really impressive, and the story was really pretty lackluster. So what made this film, a film with all of the same flaws, better than the original? The answer is an easy one…the music and dancing. While the sexy moves in 1987 might have been enough to raise an eye nearly twenty years ago, the Latin salsa of Havana Nights takes dirty dancing to a whole new level. Sweaty gyrating bodies illustrate the point of Katey’s rebellion and self exploration much more effectively than the stiff ballroom leaps and prancing between Johnny Castle and Baby. The moves needed to be spiced up for this day and age as we are subjected to racier scenes on the walls of clothing stores.
Finally, the new sexier moves needed new music, and with the help of Mya, the Havana Nights soundtrack really steps it up a notch or two. Wailing horns and passionate vocals back the mood – hell – they create the mood, something the music failed to do in the former version of this film.
In short, neither film is that good. I never want to watch either again. That being said, Havana Nights is much better than the original, so if you were a fan of Swayze in 87, you might be in for a good ride with Luna in 04.

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