ABC’S Dirty Dancing: A Punishing Cash Grab of a TV Movie

Dirty Dancing
Photo Credit: ABC/Guy D’Alema

Dirty Dancing: A Punishing Cash Grab of a TV Movie

Hey – have you heard of this new craze called “dancing”? Basically, you move your body in a rhythmic fashion to music – frequently with a partner. All the kids are doing it.

Well, the only way you’ll enjoy ABC’s Dirty Dancing remake is if you have literally never seen somebody dance in your life, or you really enjoy watching a bunch of good-looking straight people bop through generic, music video choreography. At a punishing three hours, Dirty Dancing isn’t just an unnecessary remake – it’s a truly horrid film that will leave you bored or suffering from second-hand embarrassment for all involved.

In case you’re not sure, yes, this is a remake of that Dirty Dancing. Abigail Breslin plays Baby, an innocent 17-year-old on vacation to the Catskill Mountains, circa 1963. Once she arrives, she instantly takes a liking to the working class staff that spend their nights dancing, and feels particularly attracted to Johnny, who assumes she’s nothing more than just a snobby rich kid. But, after a tonally jarring abortion subplot leaves him without a dancing partner, he’s forced to give Baby dance lessons. Romance ensues.

Of course, it’s easy to mock Dirty Dancing for it’s ridiculous story and melodramatic views on dancing – but those are easy targets. It’d be like making fun of the Fast and Furious films for their ridiculous car chases. No, the cheesy dance scenes and overwrought romance can stay. What we can complain about is the abrupt, often inappropriate leaps from teen dance fantasy to dark social commentary that this story takes.

The entire abortion subplot, in which Johnny’s dance partner, Penny, undergoes a dangerous back alley abortion, feels like something out of a different movie. From a writing standpoint, the subplot is clearly a tool to remove Penny from the equation, so that Johnny and Baby can dance together. But even that doesn’t make sense, since Penny is still seen dancing perfectly while pregnant. This subplot also takes up much of the film’s first hour, only to be dropped until the last ten minutes – such horrible pacing is inexcusable.

But that isn’t the only subplots that feel out of place in what is essentially a teen movie. Baby’s parents are suffering marital problems, as the pair has not been intimate in over a year. Now, why the writers thought their young audience would care about an aging couple’s sexual problems is a mystery to me but, rest assured, it is thoroughly boring and leads to not one but three laughable songs.

Another underdeveloped subplot involves Johnny’s relationship with an older guest, played by Katey Sagal, which goes nowhere and is only brought up when convenient for the story. There’s also an attempted rape scene that comes out of nowhere and is promptly forgotten about ten minutes later. And the film half-heartedly tries to explore classism, as Johnny and the other working class employees fight with the rich guests. These scenes are well intentioned, but the topic is explored in an overly simplified fashion – especially since white actors play all but two of the principal characters.

In 2017, watching good-looking white actors complain about being treated unjustly feels horribly tone deaf, especially since there is so little diversity in the film as a whole.  Oh, and don’t even ask about the film’s bizarre epilogue; words cannot describe how odd and laughable it is.

Now, Dirty Dancing’s ensemble might be the bravest group of young actors to assemble in a teen movie, simply because it takes a lot of nerve to step into such iconic roles. It’s just a shame that none of them are particularly good. Abigail Breslin is charming enough, but she feels sorely miscast next to the much older Colt Prattes. Their love scenes are more uncomfortable than they are romantic.

As for Prattes, well, he looks great without his shirt on – but he also delivers every line with the same bland tone. He lacks any real screen presence, even if he can dance. Supporting players, like Sarah Hyland, Nicole Scherzinger, and Debra Messing, phone in their performances, while the typically reliable Bruce Greenwood flies way over to the top and delivers a truly cringe-worthy performance (please, never let him lip sync again). The only actor to come out unscathed is Katey Sagal, who seems to be the only one aware of how cheesy the movie is. Her scenery chewing is fun, and the girl can sing.

Think back to your high school’s annual musical. Of course, you liked the actors standing up on stage, and, for the most part, they really try their hardest to put on a great show. That’s what this Dirty Dancing remake feels like; necessary or not, this is a (mostly) light-hearted film filled with dancing that wants nothing more than to entertain an audience. But, of course, this isn’t a high school production. This is a big-budget remake of a classic film, produced by one of the biggest television networks in the world. There just isn’t an excuse for this film to be so poorly written, blandly acted, and, worst of all, boring. This is one of the most blatant cash-grabs churned out by Hollywood in ages, and it should be avoided at all costs.

Overall rating: 1 out of 10.