starring Romola Garai, Diego Luna, Mika Boorem, Jonathan Jackson
screenplay by Boaz Yakin and Victoria Arch
directed by Guy Ferland
by Walter Chaw A treacly clone in nearly every miserable, measurable aspect of the surprise hit of 1987, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights' one point of deviation is that where the first film delicately pranced around the issue of race in its gentile/Jew Catskills confusion, its sequel stampedes over its own blue-eyed/brown-eyed intrigue roughshod with a plodder's grace. The decision to transport the insipid love story/underdog dance competition formula to the days leading up to the January 1, 1959 flight of Batista before Castro's rebels is already, by itself, an unspeakable contrivance in the Pearl Harbor tradition, although the decision to make another insipid love story/dance competition flick is certainly bad enough. This is garbage so misguided and poorly executed that in an act of self-defense, the mind spends long minutes contemplating other bad ideas that will probably one day find their way to the screen: Footloose 2: Khmer Rouge, for instance, or the inevitable remake of Hero set in Jersey and starring tireless Miramax pack-mule Ben Affleck.
The gawky duckling out of water this time around is Katey (love child of Martha Plimpton and Juliette Lewis Romola Garai); her evil green-eyed monster of a sister this time around is Susie (Mika Boorem); the dad who doesn't approve until he approves is Bert (John Slattery); the mother who doesn't approve until she approves is Jeannie (Sela Ward); and the working-class guy from the wrong side of the tracks who likes to dance, dance, dance! is cabana boy Javier Suarez (Mexican mega-star Diego Luna). Katey and Javier enter a dance competition, and lest one think that only the characters are identical to Dirty Dancing, the dance sequences, the training montages, and the conflicts remain utterly faithful as well. It's the same awful movie, really, though credit is due, I guess, Telling Lies in America director Guy Ferland and screenwriters Boaz Yakin and Victoria Arch for not even trying to disguise that fact. Indeed, Patrick Swayze, listed in the credits as "Dance Instructor" but wearing the same costume he wore in 1987, makes a cameo as Katey's soulful, sweat-drenched guru with a perfectly-sculpted glute--just for a little campy continuity.
With Katey, the kind of neo-feminist heroine who's prescient about Castro (usually it's Picasso: see also Titanic and Mona Lisa Smile), the picture is desperate enough to be seen as topical, nay, weighty--rather than even offer a resolution for its dance competition, it interrupts it with a failed political assassination. Don't be fooled. Havana Nights is fluff that attempts to parse human suffering so that it doesn't appear to be fluff, meaning it's exploitive fluff. I suspect that there's the stray moment or two funny on purpose, but figuring out which is which is like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack of the unintentional kind. Besides being at least a decade too late to capitalize on any kind of lingering affection from the first film, the writing is awful, the performances are awful (save Luna's, whose good performance is so out of place that it actually becomes awful for its alien-ness), and the dancing is terrible. Though it takes some doing, Havana Nights compares unfavourably to Salsa and Lambada, The Forbidden Dance. When exactly did that Hell thing freeze over, anyway? Originally published: February 27, 2004.