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The Forbidden Dance Reviews

One of a number of recent dance films capitalizing on the lambada craze, THE FORBIDDEN DANCE stands out by throwing social and political commentary in with its dirty dancing. Laura Herring plays Nisa, the princess of a Brazilian tribe, who comes to Los Angeles to stop an American corporation from destroying her rain forest home. With her is tribal shaman Joa (Sid Haig), who uses black magic to get past the company guards and see the chairman (one method not employed in ROGER AND ME), resulting in his arrest. Nisa flees and, left to find her way in LA alone, finds work in a Beverly Hills mansion as the servant of an uptight couple whose son, Jason (Jeff James), lives only to dance. After spying on Nisa as she dances provocatively in her bedroom, Jason takes her out to a club. She's rejected by Jason's friends, he's berated by his parents for dating the help, and Nisa runs away and gets a job at Xtasy, a sleazy dance joint/brothel, as a dance partner for mauling male customers. Jason visits the club with his chums, looking for sex, but Nisa rebuffs him. He becomes morose, turns away from his buddies and his girl friend (Barbra Brighton), and returns to Xtasy to try to take Nisa out of the place. A bouncer beats the would-be rescuer up and prepares to deflower Nisa, but fortunately Joa walks in and magically stuns the attacker, which clears the place. The shaman then heads back to the tribe, while Nisa and Jason--now in love--prepare for a dance contest, hoping to speak out about the plight of the rain forest when they're showcased on TV. They win the contest, but the multinational's head stooge (Richard Lynch) kidnaps Nisa afterwards. Jason finds them and helps Nisa escape, but twists his ankle, ruining their chances of performing on the TV show. Luckily, deus ex machina Joa shows up backstage and heals Jason's wound, and the dance goes ahead as planned. The crowd loves 'em, they start a boycott against the forest-rapers, and everyone gets into the lambada. There are some painfully obvious drawbacks to THE FORBIDDEN DANCE (whose title refers to the Brazilian government having banned the lambada some 50 years ago for being too sexy, though there is some dispute as to whether this actually happened or is just a marketing ploy). The story relies on one absurd coincidence after another, the acting is pedestrian, and the screenplay is often unintentionally laughable. However, although overlong, the film is consistently entertaining, primarily due to Greydon Clark's efficient direction and the attractive players. One nice aspect of these low-budget musicals is that they can't afford to hire dance-doubles for the leads (as in FLASHDANCE and FOOTLOOSE), so the dance sequences are shown in a more respectful style, letting the moves play instead of just quickly intercutting body parts. Luckily James, Brighton, and especially Herring, a former Miss USA, are good enough dancers to merit this restraint (ironically, the one exception to this style is the contest sequence, when it's most important that we see Herring and James as accomplished dancers). There's also a great deal of fun in seeing how many current issues this well-intentioned film can fit in--these include not only the despoiling of rain forests, but also homelessness, racism, safe sex, and drunken driving among young people, along with the main story line's focus on the difficulties faced in the US by immigrants from south of the border. Then, too, Clark (whose 1990 credits also include the terrible SKINHEADS) was smart enough to let the camera linger on Herring's delightful smile and Kid Creole and the Coconuts' dance-contest stage show, to leave the acting chores to the entertaining Haig and reptilian Klaus Kinski lookalike Lynch, and to keep the story moving, logic be damned. THE FORBIDDEN DANCE once again gives proof that a low-budget quickie can still be fun, given the virtues of charming performers and a heart in the right place. The soundtrack includes music by Kid Creole and the Coconuts and Kaoma's single "Lambada." (Adult situations, brief nudity, violence.)