Nikolai Rodchenko (Mikhail Baryshnikov) has become one of the biggest ballet stars in the world since his defection to the United States from the Soviet Union, and he is often on tour, as he is at the moment when his journey hits a snag. A passenger in a plane flying around Siberia to Japan, he is in Russian airspace when the airliner suffers an electrical fire and is forced to make a landing at the nearest strip available, which unfortunately for the dancer is a Soviet base. Even though he tears up his passport so as not to be recognised, the KGB know exactly who he is...
White Nights was director Taylor Hackford's paean to artistic freedom, and what better way to celebrate that than set his movie in a land where such things were far more restricted than they were in his native country? So off to Leningrad they went, or some of them went, as Baryshnikov was understandably none too keen to return to the Motherland as presumably he would be arrested much like his character was. Although it was dance that concerned the plot here, and little wonder with one of the biggest names in ballet among the cast, the politics were curiously close to another genre than the musical, and that was the all-American action movie.
Yes, as Uncle Sam's finest action filmmakers endeavoured to put across their foreign policy to the rest of the world, so Hackford joined them, and what better coup than to use the services of an actual ex-Soviet? We were in eighties propaganda territory here, and if you thought you could safely ignore the messages and morals then you'd be wrong, as bashing the Reds was utmost on the agenda, even to the extent of leaving the dancing coming off second best. Which was something of an artistic crime itself, for it was only Baryshnikov who appeared here but Gregory Hines as well, one of the greatest tap dancers of his generation just at the time screen musicals, which could well use such talent, were on the way out.
So if the politics were fashionable in White Nights, for the Western audiences at any rate, the muse it employed was not exactly going to set the box offices of the world aflame with the stampede to get to see what amounted to the planet's most morose musical. This was so dour that even the joy you could take in watching both stars strut their stuff was dampened considerably when proceedings were mightily weighted down by the issues of the Cold War. Hines played Raymond Greenwood, a tap dancer who somewhat unbelievably defected the other way thanks to getting sick of American racism and thinking he could attain more equality and freedom in the East.
So for a start there was one character who was flimsily conceived at best, especially as it was plain to see he'd be changing his mind before the end and embracing all that he had left behind. Nkolai is forced to live with Raymond and his wife Darya (Isabella Rossellini in her big screen debut, branching out after a successful modelling career) as all the while boo-hiss KGB man Colonel Chaiko (erstwhile film director in his own right Jerzy Skolimowski) encourages him in the most threatening manner possible to return to the Russian stage in what he sees as a kick in the teeth for the Americans. So can our hero, and our other hero, and that other hero's wife who's now pregnant, manage to escape from behind the Iron Curtain? Well, what do you think? About as balanced as you'd expect from tub-thumping rhetoric, there was the dancing to get you through, with the opening scene given over to the incredibly flexible Baryshnikov in a short ballet, and Hines getting to perform to admittedly sub-par, tinny eighties pop. Though not Lionel Richie's Say You Say Me, the hit song which was relegated to the end credits.