"Havana" wants to be the "Casablanca" of the Caribbean. Instead it's Robert Redford's Bay of Pigs -- a great, groaning golly Moses of a fiasco that partners a dashless Bobster with a dampened Lena Olin. He calls her kiddo, she calls him uncommitted, we call ourselves a taxi.
Though Redford can no longer be described as ruggedly handsome, he remains Everyboy, courting us here with a peacockish display of struts, shoulder-wags and swaggers. His weather-beaten visage, scoured as a lunar landscape, vies lamely with the cacophony of Havana itself, a city divided between the chip-clacking glitter of the Mafia's casinos and the concrete, common-sense hideouts of Castro's resistance.
Redford is Jack Weil, the Peter Pan of poker. A reckless gambler for whom life is but a house of cards, marks and doable dames, he comes to Havana in the final hours of the Batista regime for a big-stakes game. Before all the players can gather, Jack has fallen for Roberta Duran (Olin), a Swede married to Cuban revolutionary Arturo Duran (Raul Julia). For purposes of plot, Arturo is quickly captured and, the lovers believe, killed by Batista's police.
Attracted by her fierce belief in social justice, Jack gives up his dream of one last game and bets his stakes on the lady and her cause. Once a drifter herself, she is chagrined when she is all too easily seduced by Jack's footloose dreams of sailing off and leaving the struggle behind. "You want to change the world, Bobby -- change my world," pleads the cardsharp that was.
There's little doubt that Jack and Roberta are the Rick and Ilse of this pilfered scenario written by Judith Rascoe and doctored by David Rayfiel. But Rick and Ilse had Paris, while Jack and Roberta have a crummy one-bedroom with a bullfight poster. And their affair is not so much noble as numbing. As directed by Sydney Pollack, their love scenes play like empty maracas, shaky and hollow.
Olin, virtually ablaze in "Enemies: A Love Story" and "The Incredible Lightness of Being," sputters here. It's as if Pollack threw a bucket on a bonfire, not just that which lighted the actress but the movie as a whole. He seems to have concentrated not on the borrowed story with its prosaically fruity dialogue but on the teeming backdrop, a veritable extras' paradise of tourists and sailors, gangsters and whores.
Castro and his revolutionaries are, of course, plenty miffed by this wanton display of corruption. And in underground Havana, the anger builds and finally spills over in guerrilla tactics. It's the sort of screenplay that "Missing" director Costa-Gavras might have gotten his teeth into. But Pollack and company never build a persuasive case against the gangsters -- represented by likable Alan Arkin -- or for the elusive resisters. Not to mention that it's far-fetched to expect American audiences to feel sympathetic toward Fidel Castro.
Actually nobody gets close to anybody in this unlucky seventh collaboration between Pollack and Redford. It's an effort so distancing that a me'nage a` trois between the star and two tourists has us dozing off. Pollack has not been behind the camera since "Out of Africa" in 1985, nor Redford in front of it since "Legal Eagles" in 1986, so maybe they're just a little rusty. The lesson: Get into practice before remaking a classic. And until then, here's not looking at you, kids.
Havana, at area theaters, is rated R for sensuality and strong language.