The subgenre of sad, meaningless remakes has rarely managed to undertake a challenge less hopeful and less sought after than ABC‘s Dirty Dancing. Not only is the original a classic that is better left alone, it is from a class of “perfect storm” movies that only the truly clueless would dare touch again. That means that the best we might have hoped for is a passable bit of entertainment. Would that these were the best of times.
Though the film puts forward the idea that this incarnation will further explore the characters we are familiar with, it is practically a reshoot, as opposed to something you would want to legitimately label a remake. Scenes are not simply reminiscent of the original, they are superimpositions. Worse still, where the movie does diverge slightly (if memory serves), things only manage to become more comic.
It is, if nothing else, a movie that lets you know where it’s going right from the start. It opens with a “present” that it can flashback from, which puts forward a ludicrous theory, and dives straight into an introductory ride in the car toward our summer vacation that is a scene straight out of film school nightmares. A less believable offering of characters may never have been filmed. That would actually render it a perfect effort if the movie had simply intended to become the campy parody it turned out to be. With a couple more days on set and another week in editing this could have been one of Mel Brooks’ best films.
It’s all downhill from there, and the result suggests an effort by those who despise the original and set out to make their case by sucking all the charm and quirk out of it, leaving on display the wooden characters and stilted, insulting plot.
Abigail Breslin is Baby this time around, and the only positive note in play. She tries like hell, manages some moments that make you long for the original and ultimately shows off the potential for charisma that is never allowed to actually manifest here. You know she could have taken the role and done something with it, but you only know that because you catch will-o-wisp glances out of the corner of your eye. Shackled into this monstrosity, the best her effort manages to provoke is a certain sadness.
She’s sparring this time against Colt Prattes, our new Johnny, and rarely has any role been more miscast. His appearance here is the equivalent of casting Ed Helms in the remake of For a Few Dollars More, and he is in constant danger of being out-machoed by Breslin. His inefficacy in the role, and utter lack of charisma might be the death knell for an actor, but judging from the “Stepford Wives meets Scooby Doo meets 60s ad page come to life” acting surrounding him, I have to suspect he’s following directions to the letter. Indeed, he may well be giving you some of the best acting you’ve seen in years. Either way, he isn’t in a different space than anyone but Breslin.
The rest of the cast are off-putting at best and often curiously distracting. Debra Messing is almost as good as she is in The Mysteries of Laura, which is to say that you hope she’s trying to be silly, while Katey Sagal and Bruce Greenwood are the worst you’ve ever seen them, which is confusing. Had Messing and Sagal switched roles we might have at least gotten the occasional respite from the horror during their scenes together. As it is, there are a few key moments when Greenwood and Breslin are on the putting green, or are being seriously vexed at each other, when the audience is jolted out of the idea that they’ve stumbled into a middle school play.
The movie leaves you nothing to latch onto and seemingly dares you to continue. Should you become determined to see things through, it throws in one of its “updates,” like the overlong dance scene with Sagal and Prattes, which just has to make anyone squirm. Johnny’s “sidejob” is uncomfortable enough in the original, but with a laughable lead being tossed about by a pulp-fiction minx, you have to hope you can laugh it, because otherwise you might need a shower.
It’s hard to tell what made this seem like a good idea, especially as a TV release which doesn’t even have the true benefit of being a money grab, but it is a new classic, and one which is bound to be watched repeatedly, because it’s absolutely hilarious.