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For, Friday, May 17, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Pairing Gregory Hines with Mikhail Baryshnikov must have seemed like dance-movie heaven in the mid-1980s but musicals in those days often seemed to be built around action dramas for some reason, producing less-than-satisfying results. But if you love great dancing, you can always fast-forward through the storyline and bask in the terpsichorean delights of a new Blu-ray upgrade of the film. This review was published in the Deseret News on Dec. 6, 1985 (and to my own surprise it makes no mention of the presence of Helen Mirren in the cast!).

“White Nights” is a dance-thriller — how’s that for new genre? — and it boasts some absolutely exquisite dance sequences with Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines, separately and together.

But you’ll have to decide for yourself if it’s worth the dancing to put up with this ridiculous thriller.

The story has Baryshnikov as a world-famous ballet star who defected from Russia some years earlier (how’s that for innovative casting?). He’s on a jetliner going from Great Britain to Japan when the plane develops trouble and crash-lands at a military base in Siberia.

Naturally, Baryshnikov panics when he’s injured in the crash and quickly whisked off by the KGB, which tells the world he is seriously hurt. In reality the government plans to coax him back to the Kirov and have him denounce the free world.

To say the least, Baryshnikov isn’t crazy about the idea.


Mikhail Baryshnikov, left, Gregory Hines, 'White Nights'

So the Russians give him a roommate, Gregory Hines as an American who defected to Russia, but who isn’t exactly in good favor anymore. Hines is bitter about America and there are several exchanges as Baryshnikov tries to help him understand how much better it is in America. Didn’t he see “Rocky IV”?

There should be no question in your mind that they will eventually team up to try to escape, along with Hines’ wife, played by newcomer Isabella Rossellini (the daughter of Ingrid Bergman, but who oddly resembles Nastassja Kinski).

Their main obstacle is the evil Russian villain, played by actor-director Jerzy Skolimowski, who helmed the superb “Moonlighting” and starred in the fine German film “Circle of Deceit.”

Despite his sterling credits, however, Skolimowski is the main problem … second only to the script. Though Hines and Baryshnikov play their roles utterly straight, with great sincerity (and are both very good, actually), Skolimowski is broad and hammy, gesturing broadly and playing it almost comically, as if he was in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” or as a friend suggested, as Boris Badinov, the comical Russian villain in the “Rocky and Bullwinkle” cartoons.


Actually, that may have been intentional on Skolimowski’s part, perhaps an indication that he was the only one who understood the script.

If the whole film were played so broadly it might have worked as campy fun. But unfortunately, director Taylor Hackford (“Against All Odds,” “An Officer and a Gentleman”), like his two stars, also takes this deadly seriously.

The result, I am sorry to say, is that you are more likely to laugh in places where it was unintended — especially near the end, as the script piles one too many contrivances on an already far too coincidence-ridden storyline.

But then there are those dance sequences. And there are several of them, powerful and exciting and almost worth the price of admission. Baryshnikov angrily showing his former lover in ballet moves why he left Russia in the first place; Hines showing off as he taps his way through a Russian translation of “Porgy and Bess.” This is great stuff.

Alas, however, you have to sit through “White Nights” for more than two hours to see it.

“White Nights” is rated PG-13 for violence and profanity.