Havana Nights gets steamy but not too sweet

March 8, 2004, midnight | By Kate Selby | 20 years, 3 months ago

Two teenagers hold each other close as they throw themselves about the dance floor under the flashing lights of an old-fashioned projector. As their lips near, the lights are flipped on and the two look in shock at the older brothers of male partner. There are several close calls like this in Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights which remind the audience of its PG-13 rating. Despite the few cheesy lines sprinkled about, the movie transcends the teeny-bopper genre with scenes depicting the Cuban revolution.

The concepts of freedom and revolution are mixed well with the sugary-spicy plot, and together create a plot that is far from unpalatable. The story begins when preppy Katey Miller (Romola Garai) is forced to move to Cuba before her senior year in high school. At first she buries herself in her books but eventually establishes a friendship with a pool boy at the hotel she is staying at, Javier Suarez (Diego Luna). Before long, she finds out about a dance contest and convinces Javier to teach her traditional Cuban dance which she mixes with her European dancing to master the art of "Latin Ballroom." Javier agrees to her proposition, because he needs money for his poor family. Luna cares for his family because his father, a revolutionary, was killed three years ago.

The darker side of the movie brings a very necessary credibility to the story, as do the film's leading actors, especially Luna. The reality of his character balances out Garai's and brings a down to earth element to the otherwise nearly over-the-top plot. His performance is impressive and entirely believable, good traits for a by-in-large unknown actor.

However, Luna doesn't deserve all the credit for bringing this plot alive. Credible supporting actors, such as the lovers' respective families, all create a good atmosphere in which this new spin on a classic storyline simmers. A surprise appearance of Patrick Swayze as Katey's inspirational dance teacher also sparkles in a secondary part, as well as harkening back to the original movie.

The original Dirty Dancing, as iconic as it turned out to be, also has been labeled as the ultimate Chick Flick, and Havana Nights may not escape that fate. True, it is a story about a sheltered teenage girl coming to age and getting comfortable with her own sexuality and all that jazz. But even if you only see it for the dance sequences, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights is worth at least a rental if not the seven or eight bucks to see in the theater. Unlike the original, which came out in the ultimate dance movie decade (the ‘80s), Havana Nights is refreshing now and contrasts sharply with the fantasies that have been popular recently. Although it may not win 11 Oscars, the movie certainly isn't just a copycat of styles that have recently been in vogue.

Not only is the entire movie vintage, but the costumes were as well. The fun, vibrant styles of Cuban clubs and the starchy outfits worn by Americans contrasted wonderfully in the film. Katey's various garb illustrated her internal changes, for she begins the movie in a buttoned up white blouse and smart ponytail framed by studious glasses, but ends with her hair wild and wearing a somewhat scandalous green frock.

Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights swerves dangerously close to being a Chick Flick, but at least the plot is not entirely predictable and ends with a somewhat disappointing but nonetheless realistic and bittersweet twist. Ultimately, it is a fun movie to see if The Passion scares you too much and you are looking for a bit of a dessert film.

Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights is rated PG-13 for sexual content.

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Kate Selby. Kate Selby is a mean, green, story writing machine! She enjoys rock climbing, yoga, volleyball, writing poetry in her psychological "Zen Zone," and running hurdles. Another hobby which Kate enjoys is laughing at herself, an activity which she pursues quite often as she often does … More »

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