Andy Garcia's first directorial feature, "The Lost City," is a labor of love which is often laborious and sometimes lovely. It's based on a screenplay by the famed Cuban novelist and film critic Guillermo Cabrera Infante and focuses on a well-to-do family caught up in the Castro revolution.
Infante, who died last year, was a Cuban exile and fiercely anti-Castro since the '60s. Garcia, who left Cuba with his family when he was 5 and was close friends with Infante, harbors a fervidly romantic view of his birthplace. The lostness of this lost city of Havana is palpable in every frame.
Garcia plays Fico Fellove, the owner of the classy El Tropico nightclub, who uses the lushness of the establishment to insulate himself from the increasingly violent world outside. Fico's father (Tomas Milian), a Havana University professor, is a pacifist who believes things will soon settle down. Not so with Fico's brothers - Luis (Nestor Carbonell), who raids the presidential palace of the corrupt dictator Batista, or Ricardo (Enrique Murciano), who joins up with Fidel and Che in the jungles and ends up betraying his own family.
The film is told through Fico's eyes, which become less opaque as time goes by. But what of Garcia's eyes? The film has a sensual look and feel, but the scenes are often shapeless, as if the editor had not yet prepared the final cut. Garcia is attempting nothing less than an epic family saga set against an epic historical backdrop, but the story line is skewed. In a movie about the Cuban revolution, we almost never see any of the working poor for whom the revolution was supposedly fought.
Garcia is not an idealogue, exactly - his portrait of Batista and prerevolutionary Cuba is almost as unflattering as his portrait of the Castro era. But he doesn't have the chops to dramatize historical complexity. Plus, we keep getting rocketed out of the story by some real lulus of miscasting, such as Dustin Hoffman's cameo as Meyer Lansky or, much more damaging, Bill Murray as an expatriate American whose role in the movie is to drop leadweight witticisms whenever the pace lags (which it does often).
What keeps the film watchable, aside from the vibrant musical numbers in the nightclub, is Garcia's obvious love for the Cuba of his ancestors, of his dreams. A lot goes wrong in this overlong movie, but it has a human touch. Grade: B-
• Rated R for violence.