Havana Nights is based on the real-life story of co-producer/choreographer JoAnn Jansen who moved to Havana in 1958 with her family and fell in love with the culture and the dancing as well as a Cuban boy. Here Katey Miller (Romola Garai) resents the fact she is being uprooted from her middle-class American life to live in Cuba where her father has taken a prestigious job. The bookish 18-year-old is expected to hang with the other rich American rich kids at the luxurious Havana hotel where she and her family are staying but instead she finds herself drawn to the proud Javier (Diego Luna) a waiter at the hotel. She soon comes to realize that the steamy capital is a hotbed of activity–not only politically as country stands on the brink of revolution but also on the dance floor where the locals including Javier move their bodies in ways Katey never dreamed possible. She wants to learn Javier’s slinky salsa moves but in trying to get closer to him she inadvertently gets him fired; since Javier’s family relies on his income Katey wants to make good and convinces the Cuban hottie to dance with her in a prestigious national dance competition whose grand prize would set his family straight again. Katey starts lying to her parents and rushing off to practice with Javier. As their passion for one another grows their dance moves begin to meld (sounding familiar?) and when the night of the contest finally arrives Katey and Javier are ready to win unaware that the streets of Havana are about to erupt in revolutionary violence.
Look out! There’s a new heartthrob in town and his name is Diego Luna. The Mexican actor who made his mark in the incredibly sexy Y Tu Mama Tambien sizzles as Javier with smoldering eyes a sinewy frame and a killer smile any girl in her right mind would fall for. But Luna isn’t just hot; he’s also a fairly talented actor if given the right material. Unfortunately Havana Nights isn’t really up to snuff. Even still Luna sinks his teeth into a few choice moments especially when Javier tells Katey how his father was killed by the Cuban regime. British actress Garai (I Capture the Castle) isn’t nearly as charming a good girl itching to break free as Jennifer Grey was in the original Dirty Dancing but it’s hard to take your eyes off her as she comes alive on the dance floor. In supporting roles the lovely Sela Ward (TV’s Once and Again) and John Slattery (HBO’s K Street) do an admirable job as Katey’s parents former dancers themselves who try hard to give their daughter the freedom to express herself. And for all you diehard Dirty Dancing fans watch for a very strategically placed cameo by that movie’s star Patrick Swayze.
The original 1987 Dirty Dancing tapped into the American consciousness with its sweet love story set against a backdrop of straitlaced 1963 mores pulsating music and sweaty grinding bodies. Even with all its cheesiness the film has sold over eight million VHS and DVD copies to date. The new movie’s setting-1950s Cuba– works even better than Dirty Dancing‘s Catskills locale and with even more young hot bodies and hotter Latin music one immediately gets caught up in the rhythm of the film. TV director Guy Ferland (F/X’s The Shield) also captures Cuba’s lush surroundings transforming the streets of Puerto Rico where the film was primarily shot into old-school Havana. Havana Nights may not however see the same long-term success as its predecessor probably because of the hackneyed script courtesy of Boaz Yakin (director of the illustrious Uptown Girls) and Victoria Arch.