Art gallery entrepreneur-turned-film director Arne Glimcher has made a splashy, entertaining film of Oscar Hijuelos' Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. Although a long way from art, THE MAMBO KINGS is actually an improvement on the book, which was a vastly
overrated, rambling laundry list of evocative names and places of 1950s Manhattan.
THE MAMBO KINGS is the story of two brothers, Cesar (Armand Assante) and Nestor Castillo (Antonio Banderas), who leave their native Cuba to pursue their dream of making it big through their music in the Big Apple. Their natures are wildly contrasting: Cesar is a fiery, indefatigable womanizer and
braggart, while Nestor, the more deeply talented of the two, is introspective, haunted by an overweening sadness at being deserted by a lover, Maria Rivera (Talisa Soto), back home. Onstage, however, their styles coalesce beautifully and their percolating, irresistible music makes them the rage of
The plot is right out of 40s programmers like CITY FOR CONQUEST, ORCHESTRA WIVES and BLUES IN THE NIGHT, full of steamy temptresses, hot-blooded musicians, shady promoters, sentimental family loyalties, jealousy and cigarette smoke. Glimcher does nothing to conceal its hoariness, smartly choosing
instead to go for the gusto. He pours on the peacock-hued photography (Michael Ballhaus's lensing is on the money), gaudy editing, blindingly fast choreography, glamorous costumes and, most vitally, the score, a vibrant compendium of popular songs of the era and original compositions (by the real
Mambo King, Tito Puente), with that itchy, celebratory beat dominating throughout. Glimcher's directorial hand is less sure when it comes to the many emotionally charged scenes between the brothers, and between Nestor and Delores. (Cidre's screenplay is barely serviceable.) THE MAMBO KINGS may not
be deep, but it's suffused with a sensuality that movie-lovers devour; Banderas and Soto on a Cuban beach easily rate as one of cinema's most gorgeous couplings.
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1992
- Rating: R
- Review: Art gallery entrepreneur-turned-film director Arne Glimcher has made a splashy, entertaining film of Oscar Hijuelos' Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. Although a long way from art, THE MAMBO KINGS is actually an improvement… (more)