MEET Che Guevara. Just think of him as Jesus plus Abraham Lincoln with a touch of Moses and Dr. Doug Ross. After 4½ hours of watching Dr. Ernesto "Che" Guevara heal the sick, teach the illiterate, daze the women, execute the lawless, defeat the corrupt, uplift the peasantry and spew the sound bite, I was convinced there would be a scene in which he turned water to Bacardi.
You can't spell cliché without "Che." And as I endured this mad dream directed - or perhaps committed - by Steven Soderbergh, I wondered where I'd seen it all before. The booted stomping through the greensward, the jungly target shooting? It's a remake of Woody Allen's "Bananas," right? Minus punch lines - or perhaps with them. "We are in a difficult situation," Che observes, at a point when his army is surrounded and forced to eat its horses.
"From this day on, the official language of San Marcos will be Swedish. Silence! In addition to that, all citizens will be required to change their underwear every half-hour. Underwear will be worn on the outside so we can check. Furthermore, all children under 16 years old are now... 16 years old!"
The story of the Argentine doctor Ernesto "Che" Guevara is played with much broody self-importance by Benicio Del Toro. It will be shown in two parts after its one-week opening run. That way, on consecutive evenings, it can bore everyone but activist grad students.
You have to return for a second day to see the full boring film? This is certainly a great marketing ploy...NOT!
There are banana boats of chitchat about Bolivian mining strikes and agrarian land reform amid messages about how "a true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love" (that, and Molotov cocktails) and "you have to live as if you've already died." If ever a movie needed Kim Cattrall to slink into the frame, it's this one. "Honey, love the beret, but if anything's to die for, it's the quilted Chanel tote, not toothless Bolivian farmers."
At least Michael Moore will be fascinated by hours of chitchat about Bolivian mining strikes and agrian land reform but not many others.
Part I, set almost entirely in Cuba as Castro and Guevara creep through the jungle, builds to an exciting hand-to-hand fight in the streets, then ends abruptly before our heroes even parade into La Habana, though not before Che can deliver one last lecture on how "I'd rather walk to Havana than drive in a stolen car." (The movie is based on two books - written by Guevara, so we know they're accurate.)
Part II skips the Che/Castro follies in Cuba and Che's adventures in Africa to settle in 1966 Bolivia. Che will spend the next two hours trudging around the mountains changing his name (first he's "Ramon," then "Fernando"), accepting worship ("Could I shake his hand again?" asks a guerrilla junior grade), telling his men he'd rather die than slow them down, taking a break during a bizarre cameo by Matt Damon, and jumping the gun on Del Toro's next gig by gradually proceeding from "unshaven" to "Wolf Man."
This isn't a movie so much as a siege. When the screen flashed "Day 302," I thought it was updating me on how long I had spent in the theater without food, water or access to the Red Cross.
Che, although armed, allows himself to be taken alive, which means an amusing execution in the dust instead of righteous death in battle. Soderbergh (who went native and showed up at the Toronto Film Festival in chunky glasses and arrested-for-vagrancy grooming) takes Che's point of view as the moment of expiration arrives, sharing with us a vision of a blinding white light as the furry comandante slips into Commie heaven. Say hi to the Rosenbergs for me! Fidel says, "See ya soon."
Although it looks like "Che" will end up on most people's Must Miss list, this incredible review is a Must Read. Thanks for providing the entertainment (and reality check) that seems to be completely missing in this movie, Kyle!
H/T: Babalu Blog