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Dirty Dancing

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Dirty Dancing

Starring: Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey
Director: Emile Ardolino
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 101 Minutes
Release Date: August 1987
Genres: Drama, Romance, Music

*Also starring: Jerry Orbach, Jack Weston, Cynthia Rhodes, Jane Brucker, Kelly Bishop, Jonny Price, Bruce Morrow

Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

"That was the summer of 1963, when everybody called me 'Baby,' and I didn't mind," says our heroine in the opening of that 1987 cult classic, DIRTY DANCING. Yes, it's been 10 years since that perennial video rental favorite was released so its time for the studio to release a new print to the theaters with a new Dolby Digital and SDDS soundtrack.

Let's cut to the chase. As a movie, the cliche-ridden script by Eleanor Bergstein is so bad that it almost becomes unintentionally funny. Easily, the worst part of the story is the self-imposed second-class citizenship of the film's male lead. Patrick Swayze, who delivers a terrific performance in the film when his mouth is firmly shut, plays an enormously handsome dance instructor named Johnny Castle. Johnny, believing his collar has been stained permanently blue, complains about his place in life. "The reason people treat me like I'm nothing is because I'm nothing," he laments in one of his typical lines.

The film's saving grace is that fully a third of the film has the actors dancing rather than talking. With the Academy Award winning music by John DeNicola, Donald Markowitz and Franke Previte, the film pulsates with good spirited energy in the dance numbers. The title of the show comes from a sexually oriented dance that the kids do when the grownups are not around. Certainly scandalous behavior in 1963 when the film is set, the raunchy dirty dancing still works to titillate even if no longer to shock.

In the film's first major dance number, Johnny dances with Penny Johnson, his long-time partner and buddy but never his lover. Penny is played by the svelte and lithe Cynthia Rhodes -- no, not even a kissing cousin. Rhodes is as poor an actor as she is an incredibly accomplished dancer. Johnny and Penny's dance routines resemble two swirling tornadoes in a pas de deux. Rhodes has the flexibility of a contortionist, and Swayze, oozing sex appeal, is the master of the energetic and macho dance movements.

Johnny and Penny are dance instructors at a family oriented hotel ostensibly in the Catskills but filmed in North Carolina and Virginia. Johnny teaches the rich women ballroom dances like the mambo and services them in their rooms at night for additional tips. Being a PG-13 show, this and most of the other sex is mainly hinted at.

Into this most plastic of environments, where bringing only ten pairs of shoes for three weeks is considered a tragedy, comes the Houseman family. Although they can stay for only a few weeks for this their first vacation in years, the owner assures them that it will feel like a year. Ah, love those double meanings. Triple, if you consider that the movie will feel that long when the actors aren't dancing.

Jennifer Grey, in a relatively undistinguished career, gives her best performance ever as Baby Houseman. During Baby's three weeks, she will have to confront the issues of abortion, lying, stealing and going against her father, played earnestly by Jerry Orbach. Most of all, she will learn to dance with and will fall in love with Johnny. In one of moviedom's more fake plot devices, Penny, who has been "knocked up," will not be able to figure out a way to get off work the one night the illegal abortionist will be in town. The only solution is for Baby to train quickly to look and dance like Penny.

In an important and effective small part, Lonny Price plays the self-proclaimed "catch of the county," Neil Kellerman. Neil is the owner's slimy son, who loves barking orders at the staff.

Jeff Jur's cinematography adds to the dance numbers. Especially worth noting is his choice of Baby's feet as a focal point. Her pristine white tenny runners never get a speck of dirt on them. As Baby dances on her little toes in her snow-white shoes, her innocence is actuated in ways that a full profile could never accomplish. He also does a good job of framing the two stars when they cavort in a dance number on a log over a small stream. It is in playful scenes like these that the film is at its most charming.

The show pumps you up at the end with a happy dance number reminiscent of WEST SIDE STORY. You'll leave the theater with a song in your heart and your feet tapping -- just try to forget the spoken text.

DIRTY DANCING runs 1:36. It is rated PG-13 for sexual situations. It would be fine for kids ten and up.

Copyright 1997 Steve Rhodes

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