Havana Gila

Katey Miller (Romola Garai) and Xavier (Diego Luna) do some dirty dancing. (courtesy photo)
Return of the woolly dancing monster

If, as some pious groups maintain, all dancing is dirty dancing, then the Dirty Dancing franchise has many opportunities for expansion. Imagine an adolescent's terpsichorean tumult set against the backdrop of the Wendell Wilkie campaign or the invasion of Cyprus or the Donner expedition. In the original, 1987 Dirty Dancing, Jennifer Grey's Frances "Baby" Houseman comes of age at a Catskill resort in the arms of nimble hoofer Johnny Castle, played by Patrick Swayze. Swayze - who reportedly waived his acting fee in exchange for permission to make additional musicals, including An American in Paris, Damn Yankees, and Rent - is back, but only in a cameo role. The rest of the cast and crew are entirely new to Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. The film is set in 1958-59, when "Baby" was not even an embryo and Johnny Castle, now presented as an older mentor, would have had to dance in diapers. "Move through your fear, and connect with yourself," he advises, as if counseling, in code, for onanism.

When her father, a Ford executive, is reassigned to Cuba, 18-year-old Katey Miller (Garai) is forced to spend her senior year of high school in a torrid Caribbean land where her facility with French verbs and Greek poetry does not count for much. Along with her parents and younger sister, Katey resides in the posh Oceana Hotel, a bastion of gringo privilege amid Cuban misery. But, refusing to share her fellow expats' condescension toward the natives, she befriends a baby-faced waiter named Xavier (Luna). He takes her to a raffish local haunt, La Rosa Negra, where foreigners dare not show themselves alone, and introduces her to the sensual art of dancing Cuban style. Straight-A Katey learns to value instinct over intellect - a common theme in popular movies, which mistrust intelligence, a faculty that could threaten box office revenues. Katey and Xavier begin to prepare for a dance contest, and to fall in love.

Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights

Dir. Guy Ferland; writ. Victoria Arch, Ronald Bass; feat. Romola Garai, Diego Luna, John Slattery, Sela Ward, Patrick Swayze, Jonathan Jackson (PG-13)
Katey's parents, whose own aspirations for a dance championship were frustrated when her mother became pregnant with Katey, oppose the project and the pairing. "Just because you gave up your passion why should I?" asks the daughter. Xavier's insurgent brother insists that, instead of wasting time with this blonde, blue-eyed outsider, he join in the struggle to overthrow the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. The film portrays the Cuban revolutionaries as romantic idealists, but it hedges its bets by suggesting that Fidel Castro's nationalization of foreign properties will not lead to good. Dirty Dancing mocks the Americans for being oblivious to what is really going on, but the Havanans that the film, shot in Puerto Rico, conjures are Hollywood versions of rebel guerrillas. With spirited dance sequences and likable characters, Dirty Dancing is as sweet as the Cuban sugar crop. I would not volunteer to pick it. •

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