RATING |

Maybe the best reason to see Papa: Hemingway in Cuba is to catch a glimpse of the real Finca Vigia, the property, with its house and pool, gardens, and tree-lined drive, where Ernest Hemingway lived and wrote - and famously drank - from 1939 until 1960. Pages of For Whom the Bell Tolls were banged out here; so, too, The Old Man and the Sea.

A fictionalized account of the relationship between a young news reporter and the barrel-chested literary giant, Papa: Hemingway in Cuba was shot on the grounds and inside Hemingway's estate. The typewriter that actor (Adrian Sparks) playing Hemingway uses in the movie, director Bob Yari has said, is the very same machine that the great American novelist pounded on.

The film, made in 2014, was the first American production to be shot in Cuba in more than 50 years. With the vintage Detroit automobiles, the grand cinemas, and Havana's government palace, Yari's film is inviting, illuminating as a travelogue.

But as a biopic about the friendship between a larger-than-life scribe and the budding journo who worshiped him, Papa: Hemingway in Cuba is a clumsy, cursory affair. It relies on earnest voice-over to fill in the back story of its wide-eyed protagonist, Miami Globe reporter Ed Myers (Giovanni Ribisi).

And while Sparks may resemble Hemingway physically - the beard, the girth, the gait - the actor is given neither the dialogue nor the direction to do much more than that.

Sparks' Papa calls Ed "kid" and says "damn!" and downs shots of Wild Turkey or whatever booze is on hand. The psychological conflict, the ghosts, and the self-doubt - it's all surface. Inner pain turned into awkward exposition.

It is a carefully wrought fan letter that gets Ed his first audience with Hemingway - the green reporter invited to Havana to go fishing, to meet Hemingway's wife, writer Mary Welsh (Joely Richardson), and to while away a weekend in the Great Man's company.

Ed is invited back, and back again. He meets Hemingway's friends, and a few enemies. Castro's rebels are taking over large swaths of the country. There are military roadblocks and gunfire in the streets. It's a good time to be a reporter there.

It's a bad time, too, as Papa drinks in excess, berating his wife, who berates right back. Uncomfortable dinners ensue.

Back in Miami, a pretty Globe coworker (Minka Kelly) is beginning to feel neglected. Ed's visits to Finca Vigia seem to be taking precedence over their own relationship.

Papa: Hemingway in Cuba is based on a true story (in fact, the on-screen title still reads Papa: A True Story), but in real life, the reporter who befriended Hemingway and then wrote a screenplay about it was Denne Bart Petitclerc, not Ed Myers. He worked for the Miami Herald. There is no Miami Globe.

These details alone don't make for a weaker, washed-down story. But they certainly don't help.

And when Richardson, as Mary Welsh Hemingway, puts her hands to her face in a moment of shock as her soused spouse goes into a violent, accusatory rage, well, it's horrific.

As in, horrifically bad.

Hemingway was the master of less is more. Papa: Hemingway in Cuba - more is less.

srea@phillynews.com
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Papa: Hemingway in Cuba 

Directed by Bob Yari. With Giovanni Ribisi, Adrian Sparks, Joely Richardson, and Minka Kelly. Distributed by Yari Film Group.

Running time: 1 hour, 49 mins.

Parent's guide: R (violence, nudity, profanity, adult themes).

Playing at: Area theaters.