A review of “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: PG-13 for mild sexuality, violence and language

Run Time: 1 hour, 26 minutes

 

 

Patrick Swayze jumps in with two feet as a bit-part dance instructor in this loosely-based “sequel” to his 1987 hit Dirty Dancing.

Guilty pleasure be thy name.  Heed the advice of the exotic Cuban dancers at nightclub La Rosa Negra and “feel the music”. In which case the silly scripting and relentlessly conventional structure won’t hurt a bit.

In the grand tradition of the original, not to mention its Aussie counterpart Strictly Ballroom, a confused young woman finds herself in alien territory, with only her music to keep her warm at night.  Meet brainy high-schooler Katey Miller (Romola Garai), whose parents have uprooted her during her senior year for a fabulous job opportunity in Havana, Cuba.

The year is 1958. Intolerance and racism is rampant and Bautista has his people by their short hairs.  When Katey meets proud hotel busboy Javier (Diego Luna), there’s an immediate connection.  No stuffy collegiate types for Katey; the girl digs edge.

Sparks fly when Katey witnesses Javier dancing with his people in the town square, uninhibited and free from the strictures of his rich-man servitude. If that’s dancing Katey wants a piece of it and hey, for an American she moves pretty well.  One fox trot leads to another while the young pair finds themselves falling in love and expanding their cultural horizons a la a prestigious national dance competition.

It goes without saying that Javier slithers and slinks with nothing but his inner Cuban spirit to guide him, but Katey desires structure.  Local dance-man Johnny Castle (Swayze) to the rescue, advising her to “move through your fear and connect with yourself”. The rest is boogie-woogie history.

Havana Nights has big shoes to fill, and it doesn’t try to go there.  The filmmakers choose a gentler approach, smoothly mixing dance, politics, and parental disapproval, with a little revolution thrown in for good measure. All for a classic spin on coming of age on the dance floor.

Garai feels the rhythm, both on and off terra firma, while Luna absorbs his obvious discomfiture by tripping the light fantastic with a vengeance. The decadent glamour of old-time Cuba is a delight; detailed in the costumes, the clubs, and the festive party atmosphere.  Light, sweet, and fun.