"Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights" is sufficiently original and engaging to be called merely "Havana Nights" but will no doubt get a boost by the reference to the popular 1987 "Dirty Dancing" even though it is actually drawn from the personal experiences of its co-producer-choreographer JoAnn Jansen.
The movie, written by Boaz Yakin and Victoria Arch, working from Kate Gunzinger and Peter Sagal's story, is more romantic in tone than the earlier film from which the title and theme are derived, but the new version also has a sweeping historical setting: Cuba on the eve of Castro's revolution.
The attractive leads, Diego Luna and Romola Garai, the steamy sensuality of their dancing, the splendid period costumes and settings will appeal especially to women of several generations. Considerable pains have been taken in all aspects of this elegant production, directed smoothly by Guy Ferland.
It's November, 1958, and St. Louis-based Ford Motors executive Bert Miller (John Slattery) has been transferred to Havana with his wife, Jeannie (Sela Ward), and two daughters, Katey (Garai) and Susie (Mika Boorem). (Jansen's father, a Reynolds Aluminum executive, was transferred to Havana, where she would be inspired to become a choreographer.)
Like the Jansens, the Millers are thrust into a life of luxury, ensconced in a grand hotel suite and swept into the aristocratic, privileged existence of fellow American expatriates, who carry on like snobbish colonials in India under the Raj and remain oblivious to the oppression of the Cuban people by the dictator Fulgencio Batista.
Studious and demure, Katey is appalled by her shallow, snotty American contemporaries, especially in their treatment of a young hotel waiter, Javier (Luna). Gradually, Katey overcomes Javier's hostility toward and distrust of Americans, and they become friends and eventual dancing partners, determined to compete in a New Year's Eve contest that carries a $5,000 prize, which Javier figures is enough to enable his family to escape to America.
When Javier introduces Katey to the intoxicating rhythms of Afro-Cuban and Latin music, the dancing marks her awakening as a woman. The two dance away the evenings in a dark, sweaty cantina — it would seem that her goal of entering Radcliffe the following year is fading rapidly.
Yet daily life in Havana grows increasingly unstable as the rumble of revolution grows louder.
As the political situation simmers in the background the dancing sizzles in the foreground. Jansen's choreography is intoxicating in its beauty, grace and daring sensuality. As history commences to overtake the situation, there are some uncomfortably self-conscious passages — in which Katey reveals the full extent of her political naiveté — that would have been better left unspoken. In all fairness, it is important to remember that Fidel Castro in the first flush of his triumph was widely regarded as a hero in the U.S.
Garai is lovely and sensitive, but Luna, the co-star of "Y Tu Mamá También," sparks their relationship with a radiant personality and a killer smile when they dance.
Ward, who looks sensational in a classic '50s glamour wardrobe designed by Isis Mussenden, brings dimension to her role as Katey's mother, shocked by her daughter's bold dancing yet undeniably impressed, having been a professional dancer.
Slattery is more understanding as her father, while Jonathan Jackson is effectively nasty as the imperious son of Katey's father's boss. Mussenden's wide range of appropriate clothing is complemented by production designer Hugo Luczyc-Wyhowski's equally impressive reworking of locales in San Juan and Ponce, Puerto Rico, to stand in for Havana.
"Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights' " deftest touch is to cast as the hotel's dancing instructor Patrick Swayze, star of the original "Dirty Dancing." In great form, Swayze gives Katey some crucial coaching. Amusingly, the presence of Swayze, whose character goes unnamed, is the single link that connects "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights" as a prequel to "Dirty Dancing," which was set in the Catskills in the early '60s.
'Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights'MPAA rating: PG-13, for sensualityTimes guidelines: Suitable for sophisticated older children. The sensuality, while considerable, is limited almost entirely to the dance floor.Diego Luna...Javier SuarezRomola Garai...Katey MillerSela Ward...Jeannie MillerJohn Slattery...Bert MillerPatrick Swayze...dance instructor A Lions Gate Films and Miramax presentation. Director Guy Ferland. Producers Lawrence Bender, Sarah Green. Executive producers Bob Osher, Meryl Poster, Jennifer Berman, Amir Malin, Rachel Cohen. Screenplay by Boaz Yakin and Victoria Arch from a story by Kate Gunzinger and Peter Sagal. Cinematographer Anthony Richmond. Editors Scott Richter, Luis Colina. Music Hector Pereira. Choreographer JoAnn Jansen. Costumes Isis Mussenden. Production designer Hugo Luczyc-Wyhowski. Art director Teresa Carriker-Thayer. Set decorator John Alan Hicks. Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes. In general release.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times