Real-life friend­ship lost in dud drama

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - South Broward - - MOVIES - By Rene Ro­driguez

“Papa: Hem­ing­way in Cuba” is the first Amer­i­can fea­ture shot en­tirely on lo­ca­tion in Ha­vana since 1959. The movie makes a good ar­gu­ment for re­in­stat­ing the Amer­i­can travel ban to the is­land, at least for Hol­ly­wood pro­duc­tions. Shot in 2014 with the as­sis­tance of the Cuban Film In­sti­tute, on a bud­get low enough to skate by the U.S. trade em­bargo pol­icy, this drama­ti­za­tion of the real-life friend­ship be­tween a for­mer Mi­ami Her­ald re­porter and the leg­endary author dur­ing the late 1950s is as en­gag­ing and au­then­tic as a ju­nior high school pro­duc­tion of “Death of a Sales­man.”

Based on an au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal screen­play by Denne Bart Petit­clerc, who died in 2006 while try­ing to de­velop the movie, the film stars Gio­vanni Ribisi as Ed My­ers, a jour­nal­ist who was in­spired to be­come a writer af­ter read­ing Hem­ing­way’s nov­els in an or­phan­age dur­ing the Depression.

In 1957, now a re­porter for the Mi­ami Globe, Ed writes Hem­ing­way a fan let­ter. The author re­sponds by phon­ing Ed (“Call me Papa. Ev­ery­one does.”) and invit­ing him to visit his Finca Vi­gia home in Ha­vana.

Ed trav­els to Cuba, a mag­i­cal land where happy peo­ple play mara­cas and base­ball and pick co­conuts from palm trees. He goes fish­ing with Hem­ing­way, who is prone to spout­ing bits of wis­dom at the slight­est provo­ca­tion (“The only value we have as hu­man be­ings are the risks we’re will­ing to take,” he tells Ed as the city slicker ner­vously pilots the boat).

Played by Adrian Sparks in a style bet­ter suited for din­ner the­ater or a Key West tourist at­trac­tion, Hem­ing­way comes across as a com­plete cypher. Ev­ery­one in the film keeps talk­ing about his ge­nius, but other than a scene in which he writes a short story on the back of a nap­kin, the movie doesn’t try to hu­man­ize or ex­plore his tal­ent. In­stead, di­rec­tor Bob Yari as­sumes ev­ery­one in the au­di­ence learned about Hem­ing­way in high school. We’re ex­pected to un­der­stand why he runs to­ward a gun­fight that breaks out at the Cuban Pres­i­den­tial Palace in which 40 rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies were killed, or why he’s prone to stick­ing a loaded gun in­side his mouth as a way of try­ing to get over his writer’s block.

“Papa: Hem­ing­way in Cuba” is best en­joyed as a trav­el­ogue that al­lows the viewer a good look in­side Finca Vi­gia (a pop­u­lar tourist at­trac­tion in real life) and lots of shots of cool vin­tage cars and beau­ti­ful beaches. But there isn’t a sin­gle hon­est mo­ment in this colos­sally mis­guided movie, which man­ages to flub even the sim­plest de­tails. When Ed is back in the Mi­ami Globe news­room and pre­par­ing to write about the rev­o­lu­tion brew­ing in Cuba, he barks, “Get me some back­ground on this Cas­tro fel­low!” Like ev­ery­thing else in this stiff, un­con­vinc­ing dud, that’s just not the way the world works. MPAA rat­ing: Run­ning time: 1:49 Opens: Fri­day

HA­VANA FILM FES­TI­VAL NEW YORK

Gio­vanni Ribisi, left, and Adrian Sparks star in the film “Papa: Hem­ing­way in Cuba.” R (vul­gar language, nu­dity, sex­ual sit­u­a­tions, vi­o­lence, adult themes)

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