Like in last year’s “I Capture the Castle”, Romola Garai plays a “consciously naïve” girl, Katey Miller, a straight-As American student who comes to Cuba when her father takes an executive posting at Ford in Havana. She should fit nicely in the country club crowd to which her family belongs, but instead she finds herself attracted to hotel busboy Javier (Diego Luna) and to the exciting, sexy Havana nightlife. Unbeknown to her parents, she sneaks away at all times of day and night to spend time with Javier and try to learn to how to move like he does. For you see, there’s this big dancing contest coming up and Katey wants to enter in it with Javier as her partner…
“Havana Nights” is not so much a sequel to the 1987 movie as a re-imagining of what the press kit calls “a timeless story of a young woman’s discovery of love, sensuality and independence”. It’s allegedly based on producer/choreographer JoAnn Jansen’s own experiences as a Yankee teen in Havana, and the movie also happens to be set in the weeks leading to the Cuban revolution. But don’t expect to learn much about the politics of Batista and Castro, this is just window dressing for the by-the-numbers romance and all the dancing.
I would have liked to give in to this silly little story, but the writing is just so lousy the film doesn’t even work as a guilty pleasure like the original did. There’s no flow to the storytelling, there’s no flow, it keeps skipping to the next scene before the previous one seems to be over. This is very frustrating, especially during the musical scenes: just when the dancing gets dirty, the movie shies away and cuts to some contrived conflict (the Americans are all country club snobs, while the Cubans are reeeeal and feeeel the music) or hammy dialogue scenes. In any case, the dance scenes aren’t even all that. The latin music soundtrack is awfully generic, the choreographies are forgettable and the filmmakers can’t even keep the camera on the performers – enough with the damn reaction shots!
Much credit must be given to the lead actors for making the most of such choppy material. Romola Garai is absolutely scrumptious as the “brain” who gets dirty (sort of) and while Diego Luna isn’t quite the sex bomb his friend and Y Tu Mama Tambien co-star Gael Garcia Bernal is, he’s charming in his own quirky way. There’s some sizzle between these two, too bad they’re stuck in a mediocre flick. Here’s hoping Alfonso Cuaron thinks of them when he directs his next sex comedy!