01 September 2004

Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights

In the midst of a Cuban revolution, allegedly bookish All-American teen, Katey Miller (Romola Garai) moves to 1958 Havana with her incredibly good looking parents (Sela Ward and John Slattery) and snotty little sister, played by the snotty little sister from Surf Girls, Mika Boorem.
Katey magnanimously befriends a local busboy, Javier Suarez (Diego Luna) and gradually -- actually, rather quickly becomes a hoochie mama and falls in love with Havi-air and his dirty dancing. Secretly, the two prepare for a prestigious Latin ballroom dancing competition in the hopes of winning a free trip to America, where Javier will then send for his entire family. Right.
Will a pesky revolution get in the way of their romance? Will the Cubans succeed in getting Fidel Castro, the leader they've always wanted? You simply must watch the film to find out.

I didn't hate the movie. The soundtrack, a catchy blend of Latin and American Pop is fantastic. The dancing is entertaining, if not a bit over the top. In case you missed the title of the movie, the director and choreographer emphasize the "dirtiness" of Latin dance through repeated shots of scantily clad women, gryrating bodies, and lots of fake sweat. The entire movie centers around the contrast between the sexiness of Latin dance and the rigid formalities of classic ballroom dancing. Everything from costumes, to choreography, to the lead actors underline the fact that Cuban dancing = dirty and white dancing = clean? lame? not good?

The movie tries to gain some dramatic credibility with its historical backdrop, but the factual revolution cannot hide the fact that the movie is pure cheez: shoddy cinematagrophy, stilted dialogue, a sad excuse for a plot, and a focus on pretty clothes, pretty actors, and catchy music.
Despite the fluffy storyline, the cast does a pretty decent job. However, the only performance worth noting is that of Diego Luna, who plays Javier the busboy. Luna, although at first glance is far from being the sexy lead, proves to be quite charming. I don't know if it's the accent, his smile, or his innate sense of rhythm, but Luna is most convincing as the young man who tempts the conservative foreigner to do some dirty dancing -- wink, wink, nudge, nudge. (See how subtle I was just now? That's how subtle this film is).

Before you proceed to view this film, I must warn you: There is an absolutely horrifying cameo by Patrick Swayze. I don't know if he stuck his head in a vacuum or received some discounted plastic surgery, but Swayze is a good example of how plastic surgery can go wrong -- very wrong. Now I understand why Swayze agreed to appear in Havana Nights. He may not be getting any more film work for awhile (or perhaps he needed the money to repair his face).

My recommendation: Rent it if you enjoy cheezy dance films or want to see Patrick Swayze's film career crash and burn before your eyes.

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