'Havana' is a little like 'Casablanca' with one major exception: It's dull

"Havana" is the seventh film on which director Sydney Pollack and Robert Redford have collaborated, and this time, they have not done all that well.

"Havana," filmed in the Dominican Republic, where the 1958 Havana was built "from scratch," looks and sounds very good, but at heart is almost empty, a redo of the 1943 "Casablanca" that doesn't come anywhere near that film.


The new film does have Redford, but it also has Lena Olin ("Enemies, A Love Story"), who could never hope to be another Ingrid Bergman.

"Havana" takes place in 1958 when dictator Fulgencio Batista was still in power and Fidel Castro and his rebels were about to change the history of the island.


That may be one of the things that works against the film, the fact that we know the history of Cuba. We know that Batista was succeeded by Castro, and while the script implies that he is the better of the two men, we are not convinced.

Another thing that works against the film is its lack of fire, of passion. Redford is Jack Weil, an American gambler who idles in Cuba, doing what he does best. He is aware that revolution is in the wind, but he doesn't much care.

Bobby Duran (Olin), however, does care. She is married to a revolutionary leader who is taken prisoner by representatives of the government and is said to have been murdered.

The fact that the woman's husband is played by Raul Julia is a giveaway. Julia is big right now. It is unlikely that he would play a character who bows out before the film is even half spent, so we sit and wait for Duran (Julia) to reappear; because this is a "Casablanca" variation, we are almost certain that he will.

"Havana" has a great score, a collective one that includes songs by Fats Domino, Frank Sinatra and Perry Como. That helps, and Pollack does manage to create a throbbing impression of the city as it might have been 32 years ago. At times, however, the film looks a little like "Cabaret."

Those are its good moments. At other moments, it looks like a Betty Grable musical. This is not the sort of film that is supposed to remind us of vintage musicals, and it does.

Another thing that works against the movie is the lack of combustibility between the stars. Redford still looks good, but his scenes with Olin are more lifeless than romantic, and when the gambler beds down with two American women who are vacationing in Cuba, the film is still flat.

It does pick up as it nears conclusion, but there is some confusion as to which side all these people are on.


The similarities between this film and "Casablanca" may be intentional. Pollack seems to be asking for it. One of the minor characters is played by a portly man who is always dressed in white, bringing Sydney Greenstreet to mind.

Then, at the end, the American talks about seeing the woman in various places, a remark that comes close to the classic line Humphrey Bogart uttered in "Casablanca," the one about having Ilse (Bergman) drop into, of all the gin joints in the world, his bar.

The film's chief sin, however, is that it is just plain dull. It simply plods along, looking glorious but never amounting to much. For all the talent invested, the movie is curiously numbing. There is a lot of dead wood here.

lTC "Havana" opens here today.


** An American gambler, living in 1958 Havana, falls in love with the wife of a revolutionary.


CAST: Robert Redford, Lena Olin, Raul Julia, Alan Arkin

DIRECTOR: Sydney Pollack

RATING: R (sex, language, nudity, violence)

RUNNING TIME: 140 minutes