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Review: ‘Dirty Dancing’ TV remake has a problem: It’s not dirty enough

Abigail Breslin and Colt Prattes are the new Baby and Johnny in ABC’s remake of “Dirty Dancing.” (ABC/Guy D’Alema)

For a lot of movie lovers of a certain age, including myself, 1987’s “Dirty Dancing” represented so many real-life coming-of-age milestones, like figuring out the difference between the naive kid you were and the adult you’re becoming, an awkward but intense sexual awakening and the very real possibility that all of this is going to disappoint your daddy.

“Find a Gen X woman who hasn’t seen ‘Dirty Dancing’ at least 20 times. Go on. I dare you,” The Washington Post’s Jen Chaney once wrote.

Sadly, I can’t see ABC’s made-for-television remake, which premieres at 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 24, having the same effect on kids who were my age when the original was released and might be meeting spunky Baby, gritty Johnny and the gang at Kellerman’s for the first time.

See … it’s just not dirty enough.

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I have no illusions that the Patrick Swayze-Jennifer Grey version was Shakespeare. Set in a tranquil 1960s Catskills resort that served as a fortress that couldn’t quite quell the sound of change and social unrest happening just beyond its wooded trails, it was shaggy, almost pathologically sincere and achingly raw. You could see the dancers’ sweat, almost feel their panting, both off and on the dance floor. It had an authentic rumbly achiness, brought to life in Grey’s winning clumsy sincerity and Swayze’s devastatingly blue-collar sensuality. (The tight pants didn’t hurt.)

For some reason, director Wayne Blair and writer Jessica Sharzer decided the best way to revisit this was to take out all the rawness, chemistry and sexiness, the authentic beats and knowing subtlety, and replace them with subplots no one cares about, because they’re not dirty or about dancing. There’s not enough dancing but so much talking, dumbing down the political points like class issues and abortion like they’re afraid the newer young audience, now more than 50 years removed from the era, will be too busy Snapchatting to get it.

And then there’s there the singing. You read that right. Instead of Johnny (dancer Colt Prattes) sexily mouthing the words to “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” like in the original, he and Baby (Abigail Breslin) and her parents (Bruce Greenwood and Debra Messing, both hotter than the kids) sing it to each other like they’re the frigging Von Trapp Family Singers. I was embarrassed for everyone.

Also, perhaps because the filmmakers are trying to get those franchise checks and push “Dirty Dancing: The Musical,” all of the original’s exquisitely smutty movement becomes sanitized into clean-cut Broadway choreography. In the original, when sheltered Baby first carries a watermelon into a party of working-class staff members grinding on each other to Otis Redding’s “Love Man,” it’s supposed to feel like R&B Sodom and Gomorrah.

In the remake, there’s a dude pirouetting. Pirouetting is nice. But it’s not dirty.

It’s not all awful — Breslin, Greenwood, Messing and former Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger, who plays dancer-with-a-heart-of-gold Penny, do their best, and Billy Dee Williams, appearing too briefly as bandleader Tito, has like eight lines but nails them all because he’s Billy Dee Williams.

But the thing is so infuriatingly proper and clean that it misses the point. Thanks for ruining my adolescent icons. Give me my watermelon. I’m carrying it home to my living room to watch the original.