In an age when bad behavior is marketed far more than it’s objected to, it’s always amusing to see a teenybop romance strain for tokens of naughtiness. Released in 1987, ”Dirty Dancing” was probably the last Hollywood movie to depict the romantic hookup of a Jewish girl and a gentile greaser as something vaguely forbidden. For all its writhing body rock, the film’s one true taboo tweak was its utter shameless cheesiness: When Jennifer Grey’s Baby fell for Patrick Swayze’s dance gigolo, she wasn’t so much outgrowing Daddy as replacing him, paving the way for ”Pretty Woman” and a hundred other postfeminist princess fantasies.
Seventeen years later, when even preteen girls long to be Britney or Christina or J. Lo, how can Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights possibly make dancing look even a little bit dirty? By going all the way back to 1958! In Cuba! On the eve of the Revolution! And by pretending that when Katey (Romola Garai), the very studious and baby-faced daughter of an American executive, falls into the arms of Javier (Diego Luna), a very courtly Havana waiter who teaches her to rotate her hips on the dance floor, the result is maybe, sort of, in a kittenish way, just a little bit…naughty. Will it help if I tell you that they practice for the big Latin ballroom contest in secret? I didn’t think so.
There are two sparks of light amid the trifling dialogue and bad faux-’80s love-on-the-beach montages in ”Havana Nights,” and they are the film’s costars. Diego Luna is, you know, the other guy from ”Y Tu Mamá También, and though not as handsome as Gael García Bernal, he’s a foxier actor, with the lanky swagger of a charmed egomaniac. That Luna still looks 15 just makes you wonder what he’s going to blossom into (at this point, I’d say a Latin Adrien Brody). Romola Garai is British, with a freshness that evokes Kate Winslet, and through sheer playful vivacity she makes a straitlaced girl look delectably flirtatious. These two dance a spicy mambo, but sorry, that doesn’t quite add up to a movie. Even the rise of Castro’s rebels leaves ”Havana Nights” with a slightly crestfallen climax, since the film has to pretend that Javier is going to have the ideal future he imagines. At this rate, I only hope we’re spared ”Dirty Dancing 3: Bosnia Bop.”