U.S. Release Date: February 27, 2004
Distributor: Lions Gate
Writer: Boaz Yakin
Producer: Lawrence Bender
Composer: Heitor Pereira
Cast: Diego Luna, Romola Garai, Sela Ward, John Slattery, January Jones, Patrick Swayze (Cameo)
Running Time: 1 hour and 26 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sensuality)

Before Havana Falls
by Scott Holleran

Seventeen years after the original Dirty Dancing, Miramax and Lions Gate Films have brought forth a new offering: Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. Though the dancing lacks spirit, the story is better—for a while. JoAnn Jansen's choreography and brilliant costumes by Isis Mussenden serve the plot and pre-communist Cuba setting.

Any trace of Baby (Jennifer Grey) is gone. In her place is intelligent Katey (Romola Garai), whose break for independence through dancing is much more interesting than needy Baby's play for Patrick Swayze. Swayze plays a dance instructor and his screen presence is still exciting; he remains in vigorous form (this man belongs in a musical). The male dancer this time around is a young waiter named Javier (Diego Luna, endearing as the Cuban who catches Katey's eye).

Katey has moved to Havana with her family—her dad works there—on the eve of communist Castro's overthrow of dictator Batista. Katey lives with her ex-ballroom dancer parents (John Slattery and Sela Ward) and sister at a posh hotel while she studies Homer's Odyssey at a school for Americans.

Envied by her peers for her looks and her intelligence, she finds Javier dancing in the street and she is mesmerized. A romance ensues, with Katey and Javier taking beach strolls and dancing at a Havana club while skirting Batista's thugs, Javier's communist brother and Katey's parents.

Luna and Garai as young lovers are easy to watch, if only because their maturity is rarely seen in today's screen teens, and Mussenden makes them (and everyone else) look like a million bucks. Yet Katey and Javier don't move past puppy love, and Victoria Arch's and Boaz Yakin's script tends toward melodrama, which doesn't make it easier.

Despite a few modern songs, the tunes evoke 1958. Jensen's choreography nearly hides Luna's sloppy posture and Garai's stiffness. The dancing is merely satisfactory; dance scenes lack long takes of real, full-body shots. The closest Dirty Dancing has to a theme—that integration of thought and feeling makes a good dancer—builds interest.

A dance contest holds the promise of America and the duo perform as their world comes to end. This is where Dirty Dancing is soiled; it's as if Arch, Yakin and director Guy Ferland didn't know how to deal with the onset of communism. Rather than finish before Havana falls, they embrace Cuba's downfall.

Outrageously, looming dictatorship is used as a symbol of liberation. Granting tyrants such lofty status is obscene, and it doesn't matter whether revolutionary Cubans knew what was coming; it's like making a Berlin love story with the Nazis' rise to power as a happy ending.

Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights is not a political statement and perhaps director Ferland did not intend to celebrate communism. But there it is and, so, this Dirty Dancing follow-up is best appreciated as a happy dance tune from a time when Cubans were really free to think, speak and move.

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