THE LOST CITYR
With The Lost City, director and star Andy Garcia has created a painful pastiche-part Old Hollywood genre film, part edgy, modern drama. The two styles mix awkwardly, as the first few minutes indicate: A colorful nightclub dance with pretty showgirls is followed by a backstage family squabble with harsh, overlapping dialogue a la David Mamet. Later, with the help of some guest-star cameos, the movie almost becomes an unexpectedly campy delight. Unfortunately, Garcia is just too earnest to make his dream project anything but deadly dull.
Set in Havana in 1958, The Lost City tells the story of Fico Fellove (Garcia), the owner of a club called El Tropico. Through mob contacts and external events, Fico becomes embroiled in the tumultuous and violent changeover from the tyrannical regime of Fulgencio Batista to the Marxist rule of Fidel Castro. Once Fico loses loved ones and realizes Castro is no better than Batista, he escapes to New York for a better life.
Credit Garcia for quoting just about everything. There are direct thematic ties to films like The Godfather Part II (1974) and the more stridently anti-communist Before Night Falls (2000). There are also bits and pieces from Cuba (1979), Havana (1990) and even Casablanca (1943)! Most of all, the film is reminiscent of The Mambo Kings (1992), only with a little revolution thrown in for good measure.
The presence of the big stars serves to underscore the overwrought yet underwhelming nature of the enterprise. Bill Murray barely keeps a straight face playing "The Writer," a strangely omnipresent Greek chorus figure. Dustin Hoffman conjures Willy Loman and Raymond (Rain Man) Babbitt in order to portray mob boss Meyer Lansky. ("Call him Meyer," The Writer tells Fico in one of the script's many howlers.) Steven Bauer evokes his Scarface (1983) salad days playing "Captain Castel." And there are other showy parts for Elizabeth Peña and Millie Perkins (in an unlikely film comeback), while lesser-known actors impersonate Batista, Castro and Che Guevara.
Too bad The Lost City wasn't about the actual Cuban Revolution and the key figures involved. Here, it is used by Garcia (and the late screenwriter G. Cabrera Infante) as a mere backdrop to romance, intrigue and family melodrama. Despite this emphasis, the film should inspire discussion and debate among historians, critics, and members of the Cuban and Cuban-American communities.
It is commendable how much care Garcia affords the production. Emmanuel Kadosh's photography is smooth and eye-catching, Waldemar Kalinowski's production design generally maintains historical accuracy, and Garcia himself composes a fine score. Only Christopher Cibelli's editing is forced and distracting with its many camera tricks (slow-mo, jump-cutting and more).
After a meandering two-and-a-half hours, The Lost City seems like a lost movie and lost opportunity-a genuine attempt to personalize a vital chapter of history that became diffused and unfocused along the way.