In the future, when scholars assess the Cuban Revolution, they'll hopefully study Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, a valuable document of one young American woman's blossoming under the tutelage of a swivel-hipped Havana busboy.
Good girl Katie (Romola Garai) arrives in Havana with her family (dad's an executive with Ford Motor Co.) on the eve of the revolution. A bookish sort, she nonetheless finds herself drawn to the sensuous slinky moves of local lad Javier (Diego Luna). Javier's family is secretly working to overthrow President Batista, but whatever: Katie and Javier just want to dance. He takes her to the sweaty Cubans-only grindhole, La Rosa Negra; they stand in the ocean to learn its "rhythm"; they make out against stolen sedans in his brother's chop-shop; he shares the wisdom of national hero Jose Marti; and naturally, they enter the Big Dance Contest.
Katie's parents don't suspect their daughter's sashaying about and getting freaky with a shirtless local. They're too busy stringing plastic Christmas decorations in their hotel room, mixing cocktails and, presumably, ignoring the impending revolution.
Everything comes to a boil at the dance contest -- conveniently attended by rich Americans, Batista's thugs, revolutionaries and, of course, our happy couple and their fretting families. Then, just like that, the revolution is won, and in a stunning piece of low-budget filmmaking, nearly 40 excited libertadors take to the streets of Havana in joy. Batista flees the country, and Katie's virtue soon follows.
This film has been pitched as a "re-imagining" of the 1987 mega-hit Dirty Dancing, where in 1963, the nice girl found assorted carnal pleasures in the muscular arms of Catskills resort dancer Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze). For "continuity" here, director Guy Ferland beams in a middle-aged Swayze as the Havana hotel's dance instructor, "Johnny Castle" -- shattering that whole tricky time-space continuum that holds back less ambitious narratives.
Havana Nights is enjoyably bad, an instant addition to that category of deliciously misguided films that meld two utterly incongruous events (I went to the revolution and a mambo broke out!). And the pleasure is buoyed by the surprising charm of the two leads (Luna was last seen in Y Tu Mamá También). If you're one of the billions who loved Dirty Dancing, then here it is for you to love all over again -- but with fewer pine trees. If you prefer tales of colonial overthrow augmented with lots of swirling chiffon and a toe-tapping beat, rush to the theater. Just think: The success of this movie might kick-start a global franchise with endless variations on the dancing lovers' scenario, from Dirty Dancing: The Roman Conquests right through Dirty Dancing on Mars.