DOES THIS happen to you? You've got orchestra tickets to "Swan Lake," but the wife insists on seeing "Rocky IV."
At last, there's a compromise for the erudite thrill-seeker. Tonight, the Iron Curtain goes up on "White Nights," which does for toe shoes what Rambo did for exploding arrows. But here we have Mikhail Baryshnikov standing in for Commie-kerplunker Sly Stallone.
This combination of toes, tap and totalitarianism shows Baryshnikov to balletic advantage, leaping and twirling to his own and Twyla Tharp's twitchy, Type-A terpsichore. The movie also marks a turning point of sorts for Baryshnikov, the actor, but it's far less uplifting for costar Gregory Hines, an unhappy hoofer in an impossible role.
Baryshnikov and Hines are dancing dissidents in this middling drama set -- but not filmed -- in the U.S.S.R Taylor Hackford of "Officer and a Gentleman" directs unevenly from his own, shaky story idea, with muscular cinematography from David Watkin of "Chariots of Fire."
Baryshnikov plays Kolya, a ballet dancer who defected to the West but suddenly finds himself back in the motherland when his Tokyo-bound flight is forced to crash land in Siberia. He's captured and held by the KGB, which plans to "convince" him to re-defect.
Hines plays his mirror image, Raymond Greenwood, a black American tap dancer who defected during the Vietnam War and has since fallen from grace. He's relegated to the a Siberian roadshow of "Porgy & Bess," with a comrades' band full of fat peasants with violins. He's given a second chance at the "big time" (wherever that is in Russia) when the KGB enlists him to "turn" Kolya.
Warming the long Arctic nights of the title is Raymond's gorgeous translator wife, played by Isabella Rossellini (daughter of Ingrid Bergman) with a little too much weepy maternalism. Still Rossellini and Hines make a reasonably convincing on-screen love team.
Unhappily, there's not much chemistry between Hines and Baryshnikov, either as enemies at the outset or as the friends they become while working out together under the watchful eye of a racist KGB chief, portrayed with evil relish by Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski.
Mostly, there's too much diatribe and not enough dancing. Even when we're promised a big dance-off, in which the two work out their differences and frustrations, the dance never happens. The two men just do stretches and put rosin on their soles, while the camera closes in atmospherically. Still, just watching Baryishnikov do his stretches is worth the money.