Andy Garcia directs and stars in The Lost City, a love letter to pre-Castro Cuba that the actor claims he'd been trying to make for 16 years. Unfortunately, as we've learned from similar such passion projects mounted by stars in the past, not all actors are meant to direct. As much love, energy, and hard work as he may have put into the production, the end result is as flaccid and dull as most of Garcia's recent acting performances.
Staged as a Godfather-like epic about the last days of Havana prior to the Communist revolution, the film stars Garcia as Fico, a successful nightclub owner whose family is as divided as the country itself. Fico cares not for politics and just wants to make an honest living putting on a good show in the club, but his two brothers both have a revolutionary bent, albeit for differing political factions. One follows Castro mind, body, and soul, while the other belongs to a more moderate sect that wants a change of power but not to the Communists. To the movie's credit, although it drips with nostalgia for the country and the era, the story does not sugar coat the failings of the Batista regime, the President portrayed as a corrupt old fool who maintains his oppressive reign with an abusive police force. Clearly, some sort of revolution was needed, just not the one that wound up winning.
In the midst of this, attempting to make the movie into Casablanca or something, we're given an ineffectual and completely passionless love story between Fico and his sister-in-law. Bill Murray has a prominent supporting role as a nameless Writer who just stands around delivering some misguided and uncomfortable comic relief for no particular reason (it's not the actor's fault; he just isn't used well). Dustin Hoffman is also prominently billed on the poster for two brief cameo appearances as mobster Meyer Lansky, who pops into Cuba in hopes of setting up a gambling racket.
Garcia mounts the film with some handsome production values, nice photography, and an enthusiastic love for the Cuban music he showcases significantly. Sadly, he just doesn't know how to tell a damn story with any sense of excitement or interest. As an actor, he's become known in recent years for his stone-faced, morose performances. He can be used effectively in supporting roles (such as Ocean's 11 and its sequels), but as the lead in a sweeping epic you need a character with some charisma, which he steadfastly refuses to provide at all. Even at times when Fico is supposed to be happy in love, Garcia is so stiff that the smiles he forces look creepily mechanical and uncomfortable. That rigidity carries through the entire movie. The picture is long, slow, and extremely talky, most of its poor dialogue overflowing with clichés. It has a large cast of many talented actors, but as a director Garcia never quite gets a grasp on how to integrate conflicting acting styles. As a result, we have scene after scene allowed to run too long as the actors talk around one another, each trying to hone their characters in their own ways because the director hasn't given them enough guidance or a coherent overall vision. The film tries to tell an interesting story and certainly means very well, but winds up mildly embarrassing for everyone involved.
The HD DVD:
HD DVD discs are only playable in a compatible HD DVD player. They will not function in a standard DVD player (unless the disc is a Combo release that specifically includes a secondary DVD version) or in a Blu-Ray player. Please note that the star rating scales for video and audio are relative to other High Definition disc content, not to traditional DVD.
The HD DVD looks great, or it would if it didn't have so much damned edge enhancement. The picture is sharp, colorful, bright, and vibrant, with little to no visible grain or noise of any kind. Sadly, glowing halos are present around just about any sharp edge throughout the movie, and it really takes away from the film-like appearance.
Also very strange, at around the 128-minute mark a couple shots of Dustin Hoffman very visibly jump to Standard Definition quality and back, as if the original footage were lost and they had to substitute the best backup available.
The Lost City HD DVD is not flagged with an Image Constraint Token and will play in full High Definition quality over an HD DVD player's analog Component Video outputs.
Subs & Dubs:
Fairly nice picture and sound can't make up for the faults of a movie that bores you senseless. If you really have an interest in The Lost City, stick to a rental.