Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights

Fourteen years after the movie that has become one of the staples of the 80's comes another flick the same moniker, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. Now is this a sequel? Is it a prequel? Is it a remake? Is it some weird re-envision? Honestly, after watching it, I still don’t know. What I do know is that Jim Lane’s obligatory critic quote on the front cover of the DVD states that this flick is “Better than the original”, which leads me to believe he’s a sixteen year old girl. The Miller family finds its way to Havana, Cuba in the fall of 1958 after the family’s patriarch Bert (John Slattery) gets transferred there courtesy of the Ford motor company. Eldest daughter Katey (Romola Garai) does not like the fact that she was pulled from her senior year in high school to venture off to this new land, but soon she is engulfed in “Latin Fever” courtesy of hotel waiter Javier (Diego Luna), much to the chagrin of her mother (Sela Ward).

Javier and Katey become inseparable, dancing up a storm in the Latin Clubs and in dance competitions. The only problem is Cuba is on the eve of revolution (the one portrayed excellently throughout sequences in The Godfather Part II). And not even their love for each other, or their final performance can stop history from happening, leaving the two to part ways courtesy of political uncertainty.

Now that I have gotten all that stuff out of the way, there is something fairly strange here. In what appears to be some odd mutational parallel with 1987's Dirty Dancing, Havana Nights has numerous similarities with it’s earlier counterpart: Girl’s family is in a new place, girl finds guy not of acceptance to parents, they dance, parents accept them at the end. The oddity here is the time period. The original took place in 1963 while this new chapter is in 1958. No bother, I mean Indiana Jones had a sequel take place chronologically before it, so it’s okay. But then in pops the hotel dance instructor for a few scenes... played by Patrick Swayze, who has aged fourteen years in negative five. It’s never actually made clear that he’s playing the same role, but it is heavily insinuated. With that little cameo, and random cues from the musical score channeling the song “Had the time of your life”, it’s hard to tell what the hell this movie really is.

Take away the Dirty Dancing from the title and the little subtleties, and all that’s left is just some halfway decent teen period flick. Unfortunately being that it is a sequel (or whatever), it’s got some big shoes to fill, and all it does is barely reach the heights of direct-to-video status.

What made the first flick special was the music. It was the blending of contemporary music with the sounds of the time. It made every musical moment the slightest bit memorable. Now here what they have done is to use nothing but modern day music, but with the hint of having it seem like it’s from the time period of the movie - not a good thing. One hit wonders of the 80's tower over today’s pop songs. When you hear the music of Dirty Dancing, you immediately think of the flick. That says a lot. But in this sequel (or whatever), nothing stands out. It’s all just the same Latin stuff, but this time instead of Eric Carmen, Bill Medley, Jennifer Warnes, and even Patrick Swayze on the soundtrack, we get Mya, Christina Aguilera, and the Black Eyed Peas. What was once just a harmless 80's chick flick with iconic music has now been bastardized for the MTV crowd. Granted that was the core audience for the original, but the 80's were cool.

Now I’m not one to tote around spouting that Dirty Dancing is this untouchable masterpiece. It has its flaws. But I have respect for what it is and what it has become. The original has staying power, and if something comes out bearing that same name it has to live up to some standard, or just skip a theatrical run entirely and go straight to the DVD shelves. There are a multitude of extras on this DVD release, although I doubt if it will get the multiple dips its precursor had achieved. Its standard featurettes and commentaries lead you to wonder why the hell they even made this a Dirty Dancing movie anyway.

There are two featurettes on the disc. One is called “Inside Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights” which includes cast and crew interviews all praising the locations and music, all the while deeply embedding it into us that there were no dance doubles. The other featurette, “Baila! A Dance Piece” is the sledgehammer that smashes that nail home showing the rehearsal process and side-by-side showings of the rehearsals to the final film.

The most boring extra on the DVD are the Multi-Angle Dance Sequences. All they do is show two dances from the film shot from multiple cameras simultaneously and the push of a button changes the angle. All this achieves is to show you how much crap they shot to make this flick. What I did find amusing though was that on the box it said that some of the bonuses on the disc were trailers, and not one of them were of the movie you're watching. Just thought I’d mention that.

The commentary from producer Sarah Green and choreographer JoAnn Jansen was okay. JoAnn, upon whose life this flick is loosely based, spent the time filling in the blanks of how and what really happened in pre/post Castro Cuba. After a while you forget you’re watching a Dirty Dancing movie, which then makes it sort of enjoyable, then out of the blue they remind you by pointing out Patrick Swayze or any of the similarities in the “series”.

This flick, and DVD, is nothing more than a rental you’d pick up if you were really bored one night; but because of the first half of the title, it kind of sucks. A little retooling of the script and some little tweaks of the editing, then it probably wouldn’t have had any strikes against it. There was nothing wrong with the direction, the dancing, or even the casting mind you, it was just all in the sheer notion of another Dirty Dancing that just left a bad taste in my mouth.