A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
"White Nights" tells such a tortuous story there's only one way to account for it: This screenplay was dreamed up to accommodate two dancers with little else in common. If the movie had allowed them to truly communicate about (and through) their dancing, that might have been enough. But "White Nights" has been made in a cynical world where it is actually believed that a dance movie will interest more people if it is also a thriller: a pas de deux between the CIA and the KGB, if you will.
The movie tells the story of a Soviet ballet dancer who has defected to America and an American tap dancer who has defected to the Soviet Union. The Russian is on a flight to Japan when the jet is forced to crash-land in Siberia, and so he is once again in the hands of the society he has rejected. The Soviets do not imprison him, however; they hope to score a propaganda victory by re-programming him to accept his Russian homeland once again. And one of the ways they hope to do this is to send him to live with the American dancer and his Russian-born wife.
The Soviet dancer is played by Mikhail Baryshnikov, once of the Kirov, and the American is played by Gregory Hines, recently of "The Cotton Club." It is tempting to wonder what sort of a movie might have resulted if they had just been allowed to dance for two hours, but that, I suppose, is too much to hope for. They do find time for several remarkable dance sequences in "White Nights," and those are the major reasons to attend the movie. (The minor reasons include the luminous presence of Isabella Rossellini as Hines' wife and the superior special effects in the airplane crash scene.)
Baryshnikov opens the movie dancing opposite Florence Faure in Roland Petit's ballet "The Young Man and Death." It is an extraordinary performance, filled with athletic grace, as in one dazzling moment when he climbs onto a chair back, rides it to the floor and continues effortlessly. Hines has a no-less-amazing sequence in which he uses words and dance to explain to Baryshnikov why he chose to leave the United States and settle in the Soviet Union. The moments when the two dancers are together on the screen are the moments when the movie is alive.