‘Papa Hemingway in Cuba’
Director: Bob Yari
Stars: Giovanni Ribisi, Adrian Sparks
1 Globe (out of 5)
“Goddam war. I hate it.” Is it legal for a movie about Ernest Hemingway to have dialogue this bad? Granted, it’s probably not a shock a film titled “Papa Hemingway in Cuba” is clumsy with words, even if it is about one of America’s finest writers. According to the script — by late Hemingway fanboy-turned-confidant Denne Bart Pettitclerc — the author spoke like a Telenova hero poorly retranslated back into English. Either that or he never quite developed the knack for Hemingwayese even after extensive bro-ing down.
Whatever the case, “Papa Hemingway” is the kind of disaster where one burns untold calories scribbling down the lamest lines, often uttered by actors who definitely deserve better. Poor Giovanni Ribisi is forced to recite unsayable lines both in person and on the narration track. He’s Petticlerc’s semi-fictional stand-in, named Ed Myers: a lowly journo who, in the 1950s, writes his favorite author a powerfully wan fan letter, parts of which the movie makes the mistake of letting us hear. Inexplicably, Hemingway (Adrian Sparks) rings him up personally, gushing that he was so impressed with his parade of trite cliches he wants him to visit his Cuban manse for some boozy, pre-Revolution hangtime.
The two become fast friends, and Ed gets to witness a legend’s salty autumn days, as well as the rise of Bautista’s forces plus intrusions from Mafia goons and pesky feds. This is history writ broadly, where a troubled icon is depicted as a moody jerk who only calms down to offer epic self-pity and bland homilies. Then again, he is suffering writer’s block. Perhaps that explains why he talks in overwrought inanities. At his lowest ebb, he barks, “I can’t write! I can’t f—!” (Sparks, a journeyman, was surely the last on a long list of actors who rightly smelled a turkey.)
At least he's terse. Every other character suffers from clunky overwriting. A random character, one we’ll see only once, pops up to brood about “the things we put up with for that micro-second of ecstasy.” Few lines roll off the tongue, though Ribisi’s Ed fares the worst. He’s prone to generic observations such as, “I felt like I was falling into a world of madness — and somehow it was up to me to stop it.” Summing up his experiences with his complex and troubled idol at the end, he can only offer, “I guess what he really wanted was true love.”
Elsewhere, baddies swing by to issue threats but not without slipping in compliments about Hemingway’s back catalog. After a ludicrously staged incident on the ocean involving smuggled arms and feds — all of it set to a music presumably titled “generic action score” — an extra can be heard chirping, “Just like ‘The Old Man and the Sea’!” (Well, not just like.) Longtime producer Bob Yari, who also directed, lazily stages tense pow-wows during thunderstorms and thinks nothing of depicting major international events with spinning headlines flying at the viewer. Artists struggle for immortality through their work they can’t have in life. “Papa Hemingway” is so bad it ought to be tried for attempted homicide.