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Friday, February 27, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Movie Review
Music, young stars sizzle in 'Dirty Dancing' remake

By Jeff Shannon
Special to The Seattle Times

Katey (Romola Garai) gets more than extra beach time when her family moves to Cuba in "Havana Nights," set in 1958. She meets Javier (Diego Luna), who helps her release her inner dancing queen.
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Although it deservedly drew a few howls of laughter at a press screening last week, "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights" is not the cheese-fest sequel you might be expecting.

The film's producers can crow all they want about "not wanting to copy the original" — a 1987 hit that's been keeping its legion of fans swooning ever since — but of course that's what they've done with this play-it-safe "next chapter." And, in this case, repeating the formula turns out to be a pretty good idea.

Alas, Baby and Johnny (from the '87 original) are nowhere in sight. Jennifer Grey got a nose job, and her career took a powder. Actor/dancer Patrick Swayze (emphasis on dancer, please) makes an unpaid cameo here as a dance instructor, not so much to pay homage to "Dirty Dancing," but to leverage co-financier and Miramax honcho Harvey Weinstein into considering a Swayze-starring remake of "An American in Paris." (Dream on, Patrick.)

Movie review

Showtimes and trailer

"Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights," with Romola Garai, Diego Luna, Sela Ward, John Slattery. Directed by Guy Ferland, from a screenplay by Boaz Yakin and Victoria Arch. 86 minutes. Rated PG-13 for mild sexual content. Several theaters.

So, what we've got here is a remake dipped in habanero salsa, relocated to Havana, Cuba, on the eve of Castro's takeover in late 1958. It's driven by Afro-Cuban and Latin music — including a flamenco riff on the original film's Oscar-winning hit "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" — and unfolds in sweltering nightclubs full of grinding hips and glistening cleavage. The standard-issue romance ignites on alien territory for 18-year-old Katey (Romola Garai), but it's turbulent home turf for Javier (Diego Luna), an amiable Cuban kid who's more than happy to lure an American bookworm out of her shell.

Of course, Katey's WASP-y parents (Sela Ward, John Slattery) would disapprove if they knew their little girl was dirty-dancing with a slinky waiter, especially since they're former ballroom-dance champions who sacrificed everything to climb the corporate ladder (dad's just landed a lucrative Chrysler job in Havana). But the kids are in love, and, with a little help from Swayze, good-girl Katey is about to give everyone a big surprise when she partners with Javier in a Latin ballroom dance competition. (Turns out Castro's got an even bigger surprise in store; this movie shares its historical climax with "Havana" and "The Godfather, Part II.")

Romola Garai and Diego Luna have good chemistry in "Havana Nights."
Ostensibly based on the real-life experience of choreographer JoAnn Jansen, "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights" is nothing if not predictable, and director Guy Ferland (who's done fine work on TV's "The Shield") seems content to connect the dots with workmanlike efficiency. The movie looks good, sounds good and delivers what most "Dirty Dancing" fans are likely to expect.

What isn't so predictable — and what the producers undoubtedly prayed for — is the effortless charm and chemistry shared by the appealing young stars. Garai and Luna (having proven their talents in "I Capture the Castle" and "Y Tu Mamá También," respectively) seem genuinely drawn to each other, and their characters are just dimensional enough to hold the rickety plot together.

Castro's the party pooper here, but these kids look like they're having — you guessed it — the time of their lives.

Jeff Shannon:


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