(1984) before it,Dirty Dancing
was a cultural phenomenon that now plays more like camp. That very campiness, though, is part of its biggest charm. And if the dancing in the movie doesn't seem particularly "dirty" by today's standards--or 1987's--it does take place in an era (the early '60s) when it would have. Frances "Baby" Houseman (Jennifer Grey, daughter of ageless hoofer Joel Grey) has been vacationing in the Catskills with her family for many years. Uneventfully. One summer, she falls under the sway (as it were) of dance instructor Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze). Baby is a pampered pup, but Johnny is a man of the world. Baby's father, Jake (Law and Order
's Jerry Orbach), can't see the basic decency in greaser Johnny that she can. It should come as no surprise to find that Baby, who can be as immature as her name, learns more about love and life--and dancing--from free-spirited Johnny than traditionalist Jake.
Dirty Dancing spawned two successful soundtracks, a short-lived TV series, and a stage musical. It may be predictable, but Grey and Swayze have chemistry, charisma, and all the right moves. It's a sometimes silly movie with occasionally mind-boggling dialogue--"No one puts Baby in a corner!"--that nonetheless carries an underlying message about tolerance and is filled with the kind of exuberant spirit that's hard for even the most cynical to resist. Not that they'd ever admit it. --Kathleen C. Fennessy