Alibi V.15 No.26 • June 29-July 5, 2006 

Film Review

The Lost City

Andy Garcia assembles the world’s biggest love letter to pre-revolutionary Cuba

The Lost City

Directed by Andy Garcia

Cast: Andy Garcia, Inés Sastre, Tomas Milian

Quick, look cool. The revolution is coming!

After more than 15 years of gestation, actor Andy Garcia finally carries his long-running vanity project The Lost City to term. Garcia, whose family fled Cuba when he was only 5 years old, directs and stars in this nostalgiafied look at pre-revolution Havana.

The script for this romantic historical epic comes courtesy of Cuban writer and film critic Guillermo Cabrera Infante, who died last year after delivering the film’s somewhat unwieldy 300-page script. Garcia trims it down to a not-so-lean 143 minutes, allowing the story to sprawl amid the lush cinematography, leaving the whole thing feeling like a lovely postcard magnified to colossal proportions.

No more than 10 minutes into the film, it’s apparent that Garcia views The Lost City as his own little Casablanca, complete with himself as the white-tuxedoed amoralist Humphrey Bogart. Garcia plays Fico Fellove, the suave owner and operator of a chic Havana nightspot called El Tropico. While elaborate, tropical-colored production numbers take place on stage, various shady machinations are brewing in the audience.

Fico is the son of a noted Havana intellectual (Cuban-born tough guy Tomas Milian, who spent much of his career shooting people in Italian Westerns). Dad eschews all talk of political dissent, preferring philosophical discussions about the nature of democracy and quiet Sunday dinners with his three sons. Set as it is in the late-’50s, though, the film introduces us to the lavish, fairy-tale life in Cuba (all tuxedoes, musical numbers and nice cars) just as it is about to fall apart. Ruled by the rotten President Batista and his iron-fisted colonels, Cuba is percolating revolution thanks to those bearded up-and-comers Che Guevara and Fidel Castro.

“Play it again, Sam.”

While Fico tries to straddle the fence of Cuban society, distributing booze and dancing girls to anyone who fits the dress code, his brothers are of a bit more rebellious nature. Ricardo (Enrique Murciano) heads up into the mountains to join with Castro, while Luis (Nestor Carbonell) embraces his own revolutionary side, working with an underground movement to assassinate Batista.

While the revolution trudges forward, Fico tries to stick to “business as usual,” juggling criminal intrigue and family drama and still finding time to romance his brother’s beautiful widow. (Yeah, that assassination didn’t go so well.)

You certainly can’t fault Garcia for his ambition. The Lost City is a noble, old-fashioned mixture of politics, romance and gunplay that hasn’t been seen on screens since probably Warren Beatty’s Reds. The directing noob starts off with a bang (literally), staging a murder and a song-and-dance routine before the credits even finish rolling. (Seems like Garcia was taking a few notes back on the set of Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables.)

But what the film has in ambition it lacks in focus. Trimmed and tightened in true Hollywood nip-and-tuck fashion, The Lost City might have been an intriguing Oscar contender. As it stands, it’s an overinflated, omnidirectional epic that forgets to provide us with compelling characters and focused storylines. But it does look great.

The Lost City is slickly produced and beautifully lensed--at times a bit too much so. The costumes are perfect, the sets immaculate and the music (much of it composed by Garcia, apparently) flows almost nonstop. Elaborate sequences intercutting spicy Afro-Cuban production numbers with bloody coup attempts get a bit redundant after the two-hour mark.

Dustin Hoffman, clearly doing a pal a favor, drops by for an all-too-brief cameo as American mobster Meyer Lansky. Hoffman’s performance is surprisingly buoyant, but the sequence feels like just another unconnected bit that Garcia didn’t have the heart to cut. Even odder is Bill Murray, who malingers around the set as a mysterious wiseacre identified in the credits as “The Writer.” Murray seems to be having fun, but it’s impossible to tell who or what his character is supposed to be. Perhaps he’s intended to be Infante, commenting on his story from beyond the grave. But it’s a weird choice for such a conventional historical tale of revolution, political intrigue and cocktail dresses.

Garcia, it turns out, is a good actor and a decent director, but not a very judicious editor.