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MOVIE REVIEWS : Lambada Craze Spawns 2 Amusing Quickies

March 21, 1990|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lambada, as the emcee at a film premiere last week aptly put it, is "dirty dancing con salsa," but lest you think ill of the people who tied in their rush to get two lambada movies to the screen, great effort was made to give these exploitation films socially redeeming values.

Columbia's "The Forbidden Dance," according to the end credits, is dedicated to preserving the Amazonian rain forest, while Warner Bros.' "Lambada" is so reminiscent of "Stand and Deliver," it ought to be dedicated to Jaime Escalante.

The two lambada outings, which were released dripping wet around the country Friday, marked the first head-to-head duel of former producer partners Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, who cashed in on the break-dancing craze so successfully with "Breakin' " a few years back. "Forbidden" was produced by Golan's 21st Century Film; "Lambada" came from Cannon Pictures, which is now owned by Pathe.

The vital information is that "The Forbidden Dance" offers more lambada, which means more of what you're looking for. Both movies are doggedly calculated for crossover appeal, with those snotty--but, of course, fundamentally decent--Westside rich kids getting wised up by poor Eastside barrio Latinos.

The films revive the spirit of Sam Katzman, who turned out similar quickies in the '50s to cash in on rock 'n' roll and the Twist.

"The Forbidden Dance" has a truly delirious story line, about a beautiful Amazon Indian princess (Laura Herring) and lambada whiz who, in her quest to protest the devastation of the rain forest by an American conglomerate, ends up working as a live-in Beverly Hills maid. When she becomes involved with the household's spoiled teen-ager (Jeff James), we are taken on a journey so overtly implausible it would ruin the fun to reveal it. And "The Forbidden Dance" is fun; resourceful director Greydon Clark knows exactly what he's doing, confidently zipping past every absurdity without apology.

"Lambada," which is slicker but more impersonally directed by Joel Silberg, is about a handsome Westside high school math teacher (J. Eddie Peck) who slips into tight jeans and black leather jacket by night to try to inspire the kids at a local barrio nightclub. Can he lambada? You lambetcha.

In both films, the cast is admirably professional. In "The Forbidden Dance" (PG-13) Herring and James are sweet and likable, and Angela Moya ably assists Haig with the comedy relief while Richard Lynch supplies the menace. In "Lambada" (PG) Peck and Hardin are poised and definitely sexy. The lambada is hot stuff, but the films' mild ratings are appropriate.

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