Epic filmmakers often seem to labor under the delusion that if they create canvases vivid, sprawling, and spectacular enough, audiences will happily overlook the absence of compelling characters, well-developed relationships, or resonant themes. This strategy backfires in Andy Garcia's The Lost City, a bloated love letter to pre-Castro Cuba. Garcia tries to dazzle with shimmering surfaces and a lusty, energetic soundtrack, but his poorly developed cast of stick figures and cartoon revolutionaries can't help but recede from view, all but disappearing into the lovely tropical scenery.
More than 15 years in the making, The Lost City casts Garcia as a suave nightclub owner and the loyal son of a wealthy, prominent Cuban intellectual. When Fidel Castro and Che Guevara overthrow Fulgencio Batista's corrupt regime, Garcia's family is torn asunder and he must choose between his beloved homeland and his commitment to freedom and democracy. Bill Murray co-stars as Garcia's whimsical sidekick, an annoyingly enigmatic elfin man-sprite who speaks in riddles and one-liners.
The Lost City's sketchy characterizations and florid, overheated dialogue might be excusable if the film were more politically sophisticated, but its take on Cuban history feels simplistic. Batista comes off as little more than a preening metrosexual, while Castro and Guevara register only as broadly sketched heavies, overgrown children playing at being revolutionaries. Even their beards somehow look unconvincing. Garcia's romance with a lusty widow attracted to the revolutionaries' passionate rhetoric and fetching berets plays like an afterthought, while the usually dependable Garcia delivers one of his stiffest, least charismatic performances. As a director, Garcia is such a sucker for gratuitous crosscutting and glossily elliptical filmmaking that viewers can be forgiven for mistaking Lost City for a 143-minute montage sequence. Garcia might have thought he was making a Cuban Casablanca, but his big, empty spectacle amounts to less than a hill of beans.