Picks and Pans Review: Dirty Dancing

updated 08/31/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/31/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

The summer of 1963 has come to represent the end of an era, America's last summer of innocence before the upheavals caused by the assassination of John Kennedy, civil-rights protests and the escalation of war in Vietnam. Tin Men captured the nostalgia some now feel for that summer. With less success, Dirty Dancing, an atmospheric movie about coming of age in America, deals with the same period. The director, Emile (TV's Alice at the Palace) Ardolino, too often settles for sappy statements that belie the complex times ahead. But Joel Grey's daughter, Jennifer (Matthew Broderick's sister in Ferris Bueller), is terrific as the ingenue awakening sexually during a vacation with her family in the Catskills. Hotel dance instructor Patrick (Youngblood) Swayze supplies Grey's biological wake-up call. This is Swayze's best role, and he gets to showcase his ample dancing skills. When he teaches Grey the mambo, the scenes are exquisitely erotic without being explicit. The hip-vs.-square lines drawn between the resort staff and the guests by screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein are too artificial. There's also a distracting subplot about the abortion of another dance instructor, Cynthia (Flash-dance) Rhodes, a fabulous dancer whose acting is painfully stilted. The real suspense is supplied by Grey and Swayze, whose romance could result in Swayze losing his job and Grey losing face with her father. When it exploits the choreography of Kenny Ortega and the period music, the film recreates the excitement under the surface of that last quiet summer. (PG-13)

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