Mixed Martial Arts is often used inside the squared circle to throw off an opponent in a match. It includes many styles, such as boxing, wrestling, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, muay Thai, kickboxing, karate, and judo. But for this Smackdown, in this ring, we get a whole new style of combat: dance.
Two titans of dance-flick franchises, Footloose and Dirty Dancing, are squaring off. One side sees the remake of the 1984 Kevin Bacon classic Footloose, which stars Kenny Wormald and Julianne Hough. In the opposite corner is the prequel/remake of the timeless Patrick Swayze-Jennifer Grey film Dirty Dancing, now re-imagined as Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. While the contenders in this particular bout may not be the originators that we’ve come to know and love, these second-generation grapplers both come out swinging, each in its own way.
This Smack could easily have turned into a fatal four-way match, but as a Smack Ref, it’s my job to keep this a fair one-on-one bout. I’m going to do my best to isolate these two movies as individual entities, rather than compare them to their legacies. But forgive me if I let a few references to the classics slip a bit here and there.
The remake of Footloose reportedly passed over Kenny Ortega (who is, interestingly enough, lined up to direct the upcoming Dirty Dancing remake) and Zac Efron, and went forward with the eclectic writer/director Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow, TV’s Terriers and The Shield); two-time Dancing With The Stars winner Julianne Hough as the preacher’s daughter, Ariel; virtual newcomer Kenny Wormald as Ren; and Dean Pitchford, the original writer of the 1984 version as well as this one (along with Brewer).
When Ren moves from big city Boston to small town Bomont and finds out there is a public ban on dancing and loud music, he and his rebellious spirit begin to clash with the whole town. On his journey to get the law abolished and to set up a senior prom for himself and his classmates, Ren must go head-to-head with his teachers, local ruffian and Ariel’s beau, Chuck Cranston, and the unofficial leader of the town, Reverend Shaw Moore.
We pull for Ren from the beginning because of his fish-out-of-water status and the recent passing of his mother from leukemia. Even more engaging is Miles Teller’s character, Willard. I may be a big city boy like Ren, but I can certainly appreciate a well-meaning country boy who looks out for his friends. Not to mention that Willard has some of the best lines in the movie.
Even though the city council and Reverend Shaw are the minds that Ren aims to change, there’s one Bomont citizen who doesn’t show signs of changing any time soon. Following in the footsteps of the macho meatheads that came before him in teen movies of old, Chuck Cranston seeks to take out our hero by any means necessary. Cranston provides a nice obstacle for Ren to overcome on his hero’s journey.
The Defending Champion
Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights is directed by Guy Ferland, best known for his large body of work on television (including, like Brewer, The Shield and Terriers), and written by Boaz Yakin and Victoria Arch from a story by Kate Gunzinger and Peter Sagal. The movie stars Romola Garai as Katey Miller, an American girl who moves to Cuba in 1958 with her family, and Diego Luna as Javier Suarez, a worker at the hotel where Katey and her family are living.
Basically, the plot of Havana Nights is the exact same as the original Dirty Dancing, except the story is transplanted from a resort in New York to a resort in Cuba. Patrick Swayze even makes an appearance as a dance instructor in the film.
After seeing Javier dance in a public square, Katey befriends him. They eventually decide to enter a Latin ballroom-dancing competition in order to win money and a trip to America for themselves and Javier’s family, who wants to flee Cuba’s oppressive government. Even though Katey’s family and friends all object, she cannot resist the passion to dance with the boy she has come to love.
I can already hear the cries of blasphemy for what I’m about to say, but I actually enjoyed this new version of Footloose. A few dance scenes and some nods to the original had me choking back a chuckle in the theater, but aside from that, the movie does boast a nice mix of country, hip-hop, and indie music in its soundtrack, which all mesh nicely with the dancing onscreen. There are even a few songs that carry over from the original soundtrack, covered by contemporary artists such as Blake Shelton (“Footloose”), Ella Mae Brown (“Holding Out For A Hero”) and Victoria Justice and Hunter Hayes (“Almost Paradise”).
Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, on the other hand, is a period piece, and the Latin-inspired music and some American tunes from the time mostly reflect that. A couple of dance scenes feature modern hip-hop artists such as the Black Eyed Peas and Wyclef Jean, which didn’t really fit the tone of the film and made wonder why I was hearing Will.i.am in late-’50s Havana.
When it comes to the dancing, each film takes a different approach. Footloose has big group numbers that range in style from line dancing to popping and locking. Havana Nights features more of a controlled chaos on the dance floor, using a more classical style infused with sultry Latin passion. Both films include the mandatory dance prep montages. The choreographers and dancers from both productions were pretty fantastic, despite the lack of an epic overhead lift.
The characters in the films are pretty similar, but when it comes down to who to empathize with and root for, Ren and Ariel get the upper hand in my book, since they’re actually working for the greater good. They’re trying to get a town out of a rut that it dug itself into because of a tragedy that happened years ago, which is admirable.
Yes, Javier is somewhat involved in Cuba’s revolution, but not really, since he’s spending all of his time dancing with Katey and working hard to provide for his family. That’s still admirable, but as for Katey, three words come to mind: white girl problems. She’s rich. She’s off to a good school for college. She can dance really well. And she’s pretty hot on top of that. She also wants her parents to acknowledge that she’s growing up into her own person, which is something that we can all relate to, but it’s not enough to make me care about her much.
The Footloose remake has an intangible quality — heart — that connects with audiences. Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, is unfortunately lacking in that department. You can really feel Ren’s pain as he copes with having a town against him while also remembering how hard his mother fought her disease, and Ariel’s pain of losing part of her father along with her brother in that accident. That little extra bit of character development makes all the difference.
As it says in the book of Ecclesiastes, There’s a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to watch, and a time to declare a Movie Smackdown! winner.
Neither of these movies needed to happen. Most remakes don’t, with the exception of The Incredible Hulk. That really needed to happen. But when a movie is barely five years older than I am, I don’t think a remake is warranted just yet. A limited re-release would have done quite nicely.
That being said, I’m not too upset about the creation of the winner, which is the 2011 remake of Footloose. It was fun to watch because of the dancing, and I was into the story because of the characters. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s the King of Remakes, but I enjoyed it for what it was. Kevin Bacon will always be the man when it comes to Footloose, but our winner comes several degrees closer to his standard than it’s sometimes-anachronistic rival.