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'Papa: Hemingway in Cuba' manages to turn a colorful, true tale into a boring biopic

'Papa: Hemingway in Cuba' manages to turn a colorful, true tale into a boring biopic
Giovanni Ribisi, left, and Adrian Sparks in "Papa Hemingway in Cuba." (Havana Film Festival New York)

The biopic "Papa: Hemingway in Cuba" has some real bona fides behind it. With an autobiographical script written by journalist Denne Bart Petitclerc, the film depicts the relationship between Ernest Hemingway and a young Miami Herald reporter in the late 1950s, here named Ed Myers (Giovanni Ribisi). Though Petitclerc died in 2006, director Bob Yari revived the dormant script and, with warmer relations between the U.S. and Cuba, was able to shoot on location on the island — the first Hollywood film to be shot there since 1959 — at Hemingway's estate.

With a rich and colorful true story and the gorgeous, pristine setting, things should have been golden, but "Papa" is closer to tin. The film suffers from serious biopic problems: The compelling figure at the center is refracted through the perspective of another, less interesting person; the script is too committed to details that might be historically accurate but that don't serve the story; the characters frequently articulate subtext that would have been better left unsaid.

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"Goddamn war," Hemingway bellows, slamming down a glass of rum after witnessing the killing of rebel fighters. "I hate it." He also bellows about writer's block and suicide, in case you weren't sure you were watching a movie about Hemingway. The titular novelist is played by stage and screen actor Adrian Sparks, and his over-the-top delivery feels decidedly theatrical. As do the explosive fights with his wife, Mary (Joely Richardson). The film manages to be exceedingly dull, perhaps because it's too enamored of its own design, concept and location to bother with a captivating story.

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"Papa: Hemingway in Cuba"

MPAA rating: R for language, sexuality, some violence and nudity

Running time: 1 hour 49 minutes

Playing: In general release.

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