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By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 14, 1990


Sydney Pollack
Robert Redford;
Lena Olin;
Alan Arkin;
Raul Julia;
Tomas Milian;
Tony Plana
Under 17 restricted

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Something awfully familiar about this: In "Havana," professional poker player Robert Redford hangs around a casino in Cuba's soon-to-be war-torn capital, while dictator Bautista's goons round up the list of usual suspects. Redford falls for classy Lena Olin, who's married to underground activist Raul Julia. When Julia is captured, the love between Redford and Olin steams up. When the war heats up, Redford arranges a getaway for Olin, but the question is, will he be on that boat, or will Julia?

Well, it is a boat, not a plane, and Redford's character is called Jack, not Rick, and nobody actually sings "As Time Goes By."

If he's not updating "Casablanca," director Sydney Pollack is certainly dipping into "Out of Africa," the romantic travelogue that won him Best Picture and Best Director in 1985. In "Africa," Redford was after big game and fell in love with gutsy Meryl Streep, who hed a farrrm in Ahfrica. In "Havana," Redford's after a big card game and falls in love with gutsy Olin who had a sugar cane farm in Cuba. The scenic browns and greens of "Africa" are now the hazy blues and neon reds of Havana or, at least, a soundstage version. But the romantic adventure isn't quite the same.

Redford, reteaming with Pollack for the third time (starting with "Three Days of the Condor"), is a veteran leading man and he delivers accordingly, his advancing years giving his features added potency. He achieves much through small gestures; there's an efficient clip to his performance. But he doesn't provide any clues to his nature. Why, really, does he like Olin? Why does he, an apolitical card player who likes the occasional one-night stand with two women, risk his life and get political for her? Come to think of it, why is he so crazy about cards?

"I feel more honest playing cards than trying to make believe these mountains are mine," he tells Olin. Hmmm.

Maybe Redford does what he does because he's a movie star. Maybe that's how he manages to drive his convertible through rebel army lines, past tanks and soldiers and between whizzing bullets without a scratch. ("Excuse me, senors, Robert Redford coming through. Please continue with your backdrop revolution. Thank you.")

Another thing that's pretty tough to film is -- how do you say? -- winds of change. All that invisible political turbulence, all those pesky nuances in the air. At best, Pollack achieves a counterfeit sense of this atmosphere. But he insists on continuing the card game anyway, an over-extended misdeal of a movie that refuses to fold.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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