Running Time: 105 mins.
In 1957 Bert Miller (John Slattery) is transferred from the USA to pre-Castro Cuba. His family goes with him. The ferment for change in Cuba is strong, but the Millers live in an expatriate enclave.
One day, on her way home from school, Katie Miller (Garre) gets lost in Havana and happens on Javier Suarez (Lunar) who leads a troupe of Cuban dancers in street theatre. She falls in love with Javier, learns the Cuban dance steps and, together, they enter a Latin dance competition. During the finals Castro ceases power in the country.
I guess for a teen movie one can only expect political education to go so far. Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, however, uses Castro's Communist revolution as filling to the movement sequences, the love affair, and the domestic drama. That said, there is some attempt in this film show us the disparity between rich and poor, Cubans and expatriates, national and multinational concerns that gave ferment to the revolution.
The problem with this film is that tends to go too far the other way. The Americans are generally white, middle-class, censorious and boring. The Cubans are liberated and lustful. Caricatures in any film never make for interesting characters.
The film unapologetically exploits the success of the 1987 film with a similar title. Even the star of that film, Patrick Swazey, makes appearances in this one. And, while the dance sequences in this film are fine indeed, the drama lacks bite, the romance is utterly predictable, some of the direction is poor, and several of the actors in this film can't act.
Morally the film is the usual teen romance fare - Romeo and Juliet set in Cuba and shot in Puerto Rico. One curious element in the script is the while the Millers are Catholic and Katie goes to the private Catholic girls School in Havana, her mother clearly expects that she in 1957 she will be sexually active with her American boyfriend. No wonder Katie's confused.
Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights has some very provocative dance scenes and a terrific soundtrack, but it is not anywhere near as good or interesting as the original Dirty Dancing, Strictly Ballroom, or The Buena Vita Social Club. It is an imitation of these films and so it flatters rather than competes.
Fr Richard Leonard is the Director of the Australian Catholic Film Office.