Starring: Andy Garcia, Ines Sastre, Bill Murray, Tomas Milian, Enrique Murciano, Nestor Carbonell, Richard Bradford, Jsu Garcia, Millie Perkins
Rated R for Violence
I admit that I'm a sucker for movies that follow a group of characters through time, and at the end they look back nostalgically over what has been lost to time. In many ways, Andy Garcia's directorial debut, "The Lost City," is one of those movies, although it's nowhere near the level of the best ones, like "Memoirs of a Geisha" or "For the Boys." Come to think of it, a better comparison would be "Farewell, My Concubine."
Fico Fellove (Garcia) is the owner of "El Tropico," the hottest nightclub in Havana. His family is as wealthy as it is diverse. His brothers Luis (Carbonell) and Ricardo (Murciano) are revolutionaries trying to overthrow the brutal regime of President Fulgencio Batista (Juan Fernandez) while he concentrates on running the club. But as his father puts it, they always put family first. Unfortunately for Fico, change is coming, and he can no longer ignore it.
This is a powerful story of love and loss, family and violence, death and tragedy. All the good stuff we go to movies like this for. However, merely having the right ingredients isn't enough. You have to have the person behind the camera stir them all together with skill, and that's where the film comes up short. I do not doubt that Andy Garcia, a Cuban native who fled to the US at age 5, wanted to tell this story. The film beats with the heart of a man mourning the loss of his homeland. But Garcia just doesn't have the directorial skill to pull this complex of a project off. It needs a true master, like Francis Ford Coppola. To his credit, Garcia is smart enough to know this, and borrows from the man who directed him to an Oscar nomination in "The Godfather: Part III."
The acting varies. Garcia, never an actor of significant range, is uneven as Fico. Usually he's pretty good, but there are times when he goes over the top or is too muted. Ines Sastre is certainly beautiful as the woman who would eventually become his wife, but she doesn't display a lot of range. Tomas Milian brings a huge dose of pathos to the weary but loyal Don Federico. Bill Murray's contribution is curious. It's a good performance (it's the sort of thing that only Murray could pull off), but I was left wondering what he contributed to the story. There seems to be a lot of potential in his character, but Garcia only has him hang around and toss out one-liners. Special mention has to go to Jsu Garcia, who is quite effective as Che Guevarra. Horror fans might be interested to know that he once played the ill-fated Rod in the classic "A Nightmare on Elm Street."
"The Lost City" is certainly not a waste of time. It's a story that needs to be told. And while there are many flat moments and times when the film drags, there are just as many that do work. For example, an assassination attempt of Batista is effectively (but not masterfully) handled and crackled with suspense. The ending, while protracted, rings true with longing and sadness. That, even after 16 years, there were people who were still determined to get it made speaks to the power of the subject.
But the film is so uneven. Garcia is fond of cross-cutting between events that go on simultaneously or at different points in time, but the editing is often clumsy. The acting and writing are occasionally lacking as well. As such, I can't in good conscience recommend the film. By the same token, if I came across a person who had even the smallest intent or interest in seeing this film, I wouldn't stop them.