Nurtured by producer, director, composer and star Andy Garcia for 16 years, only to spend another three waiting to see the inside of UK cinemas, The Lost City is best described as an earnest labour of love.
Taking his lead from Casablanca and The Godfather Part II, Garcia (whose family fled Cuba when he was five) ambitiously weaves such major historical players as Fidel Castro, Che Guevarra, President Batista and ruthless mobster Meyer Lansky into an old-fashioned story of brothers torn apart by historical events.
Garcia is Fico, owner of El Tropico, a high end nightspot in sun kissed Havana, harking from a wealthy family and maintaining a critical distance from Batista’s oppressive regime.
His brothers Luis (Carbonell) and Ricardo (Murciano) cannot resist the call of revolution, Luis siding with the armed intellectuals and Ricardo going paramilitary with Guevarra’s guerrillas.
As violence invades his club and revolution claims the life of one brother, Fico finds detachment from events impossible and that life in Castro’s new dawn is as dangerous as the old regime.
Despite aiming for the highs of Godfather II, Garcia’s film crash lands in Godfather Pt III territory – the film that failed to propel him to Pacino levels of stardom.
Coming across like a cartoon version of Cuban history, The Lost City is too enthralled to the melodrama of the brothers’ stories to properly examine the massive social upheaval of the times.
After an action packed first hour the film loses all focus, transforming Castro, one of the 20th century’s most fascinating figures, into a boo-hiss villain and mob boss Meyer Lansky (an avuncular Dustin Hoffman) into a cuddly bear whose threats of turning Fico’s club into a gambling den carry zero weight.
Garcia overcooks the juxtaposition of oppressive Cuban regimes with the vibrancy of its working class music and culture, and spends way too long on Fico romancing his brother’s widow (Sastre) and a protracted New York epilogue.
A solid Latin American cast clearly believe in the project, and Bill Murray crops up in a bizarre turn as a writer (based on acclaimed novelist G. Cabrera Infante, who also penned the script) without much to say.
Not an embarrassment, but definitely a missed opportunity.