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‘Lambada’ (PG-13) and ‘The Forbidden Dance’ (PG-13)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 17, 1990

Is the alleged lambada craze for you? Find out this weekend with one of two dumb dance movies at a theater near you. There's Cannon's "Lambada," which promises to "Go all the way," or 21st Century's "The Forbidden Dance," which teases, "If it were any hotter, it wouldn't be dancing." The dance, a sort of pelvic slam that originated in Brazil, may sizzle, but neither movie is going to set the night on fire.

Both are pandering and exploitative and pit ethnic protagonists -- an Indian princess from Brazil and a Chicano high school teacher -- against snotty gringos from Beverly Hills. Heavy-handed and somewhat mean-spirited, "The Forbidden Dance" is a slapdash message movie, about as subtle as a clog dance. "Lambada," the better of the two, is far lighter on its feet with a flashier look and a professional cast. It's basically a dimwitted "Stand and Deliver" with choreography -- not just lambada, which is like playing horsy standing up, but funk production numbers as well. Totally groovy.

Shabba-Doo, the movie's choreographer, also costars as a truculent barrio dancer, Ramone, part of a colorful troupe of zanies who dance and study advanced mathematics at an East Los Angeles nightclub. Their teacher, Kevin Laird (J. Eddie Peck), a Mexican orphan adopted by Anglos, has a day job as head of the math department at snotty Stonewood High School. He loves trigonometry as much as he loves dirty dancing.

The trouble begins when a beautiful student, Sandy (Melora Hardin), gets a crush on Kevin, understandable since he looks like a Chippendale's dancer. Her boyfriend, Dean (Ricky Paull Goldin), becomes jealous when she throws him over for Kevin, though he is happily married to an understanding woman who doesn't mind that he stays out late dancing with spandex-wrapped teenagers seven nights a week. The whole megillah comes to a head in a Math Off between the gringos and the lambada dancers. You will simply never guess who wins.

It's predictably but enthusiastically directed and written by Joel Silberg, but hardly a stretch for the man who gave us "Breakdancin' " and "Rappin.' " And the cast is no worse than you might expect. Hardin, who has crow's feet, hardly makes a convincing teenage girl, and Peck, who got a laugh from a largely Hispanic audience every time he referred to his Mexican heritage, hardly makes a convincing Chicano. But they are at least competent actors and good dancers, which cannot be said for Laura Herring and Jeff James, the awkward leads of "The Forbidden Dance."

Herring, a former Miss USA, must not have danced for her talent portion of the competition. Perhaps she twirled the baton or played a marimba. At least, her interpretation of the lambada is a kind of rhythmic spraddle. She plays Nisa, a Brazilian princess determined to save her village and the rain forests from destruction by a multinational corporation. Upon arriving in Los Angeles with her faithful medicine man, she is prevented by a hired gun from seeing the chairman of the board of Petramco Corp.

While working as a maid for about two minutes, she meets and goes off dancing with her rich, racist employer's son, Jason (James, one of Denver's top male models). His girlfriend, Ashley (Barbra Brighton), becomes jealous and drives off the little "beaner." Alas, the princess finds herself dancing in a Hollywood honky-tonk called Xtasy, where she is menaced by Mickey, the knife-wielding, sexually ambiguous proprietress (played by choreographer Miranda Garrison).

Nisa hoochie-coochies -- shaking her maracas for money -- till she is saved by Jason, and the two enter a national dance contest sponsored by King Creole and the Coconuts. Should they win, they will have an opportunity to appear on television and tell America to stop destroying Brazil's rain forest. Never mind that Brazil is doing a pretty good job of destroying its own rain forest.

Despite all its political posturing, "The Forbidden Dance," appallingly directed by Greydon Clark, is soft pornography, what with Nisa unable to stop dancing the lambada with herself even alone at night in her bedroom. Both movies have to remind us continually that the lambada is addictive and steamy and that it is the rage the Hollywood publicists believe it is. "It's so sexy they outlawed it in Brazil. It's the lambada," says one. "It's the lambada. Can you believe they outlawed it in Brazil?" says the other.

It comes from the Portuguese verb "to whip or flog," according to "The Forbidden Dance." It means "slap or rapid shot," says "Lambada." Whichever, basically the lambada is refried salsa.

Both movies are rated PG-13 for profane language and sexual implications.

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