Year Released: 2000
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 115 minutes
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Remember the bad old days when Hollywood would crank out westerns with white guys, their faces smeared with red make-up, cast as “Indians?” It was an insulting practice which made about as much sense as, say, casting English comedic actor Bob Hoskins as reviled Panamanian dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega in this sure-to-be-controversial biopic from Roger Spottiswoode. “Noriega: God’s Favorite” opens with “Tony” in a Vatican Embassy confessional; a mob of rock music-blaring “Yanquis” waiting outside the gates to haul him to Miami on drug charges. Seeking forgiveness and, perhaps, understanding, the despised dictator rationalizes the murderous actions of his ten years in power as we relive them with him. Almost as controversial as the main casting decision will be the surprisingly lighthearted portrayal of a man one of his CIA handlers refers to as a “pizza-faced, tin-pot fascist.” To be sure, the film, which I assume is based on the historical novel of the same name, depicts a number of harrowing moments, such as the gruesome slaying of popular opposition leader Hugo Spandafora and the brutally rebuffed coup led by Panamanian Major Giroldi. Yet, Spottiswoode interjects several downright silly moments between these brutal episodes; farcical events that one would more likely expect to find in “Springtime for Hitler.” Granted, Americans have a tendency to roll their eyes at the foibles of such strongmen if their rule serves our larger purpose. Yet, while scenes where Noriega must deal with a nagging shrew of a wife, for instance, or easily manipulates Panama’s ineffectual president are undoubtedly amusing and entertaining, they certainly trivialize what a drug-running, murderous monster he was. The one place where the comedy works without qualifications is when the fugitive dictator takes refuge inside the aforementioned Vatican Embassy, bringing us back full circle. In this case, the situation is so ludicrous that having the priests and nuns hamming it up a bit doesn’t seem out of line. To his credit, Hoskins struggles mightily to pull this off, but it’s simply too much of a stretch. He just plain doesn’t look like the guy. Somehow, given the uneven nature of this black comedy, that’s oddly appropriate, as it’s virtually impossible to take “Noriega: God’s Favorite” seriously anyway.
Posted on March 30, 2000 in Reviews by Merle Bertrand
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