April 4, 2012

Is the sleeper success of Dirty Dancing going to prompt a wave of dance movies? Could be, and Salsa is an early imitator, but with a Latin beat.

Actually, Salsa resembles Dirty Dancing only insofar as it contains a lot of sweaty limbs, a score of gyrating torsos, and pelvic thrusts a-plenty. (Both films were choreographed by Kenny Ortega, who clearly has his meter set on high.)

The story of Salsa, if it can be called a story, concerns a young garage mechanic (Robby Rosa, formerly a member of the prefab pop group Menudo) who supports his mother and sister while he dreams of winning a salsa dance contest that would send him to a big competition in Puerto Rico.

In a way, the movie is a Latin version of Pal Joey. The hero’s a bit of a cad, and he’s torn between two other dancers—his sweet, simple girlfriend, and an older, wealthier dancing master who’s something of a witch. Which will he choose? Will he jeopardize his chances of winning the competition? Will he resist the temptations of yet another romantic interest, the obligatory curled-lip spitfire? Will he allow his willowy younger sister to date his best friend?

The answers to these and other questions are pretty easy to guess, and director Boaz Davidson tries to distract from the formulaic nature of the script by finding as many excuses for dirty dancing as possible. In some cases, Davidson and Ortega conjure up settings for dances that recall the classic Hollywood musicals, such as a duet that takes place in front of a tropical-island billboard. But the explicit nature of the dancing detracts from the charm.

The steamiest number takes place inside the hero’s garage apartment, when he and the aforementioned spitfire engage in some heavy pawing. The guy even has a glittery silver ball that hangs and rotates from his bedroom ceiling, which is a new wrinkle in personal make-out accessories.

It shouldn’t take long for other Dirty Dancing clones to arrive. For that matter, Dirty Dancing II, which will pick up the story of the original film’s bump-‘n-grinders a few years later, is already in the works. While we wait for that, a selection of unauthorized substitutes will doubtless be available.

First published in the Herald, May 1988

Who can forget Salsa, or the Dirty Dancing follow-ups? I can, of course—I’m not an idiot—but it’s harder to forget the feeling of sitting through this phase of cheap moviemaking. Another knock-off from the Cannon Group.