The Mambo Kings (1992) – Review

3 1/2 Stars

The Mambo Kings is a flawed film but it’s energy, art direction, production design, and music give the picture a vitality that is hard to resist. Anchored by two sensational performances from Armand Assante and Antonio Banderas, this adaption from the Pulitzer winning novel is an absolute knockout. The film tells the story the two Cuban brothers, both musicians who come to New York with aspirations of making it big on the Mambo scene.

A beautifully orchestrated opening sequence violently explains the secret that has forced the Castillo brothers from their home into the crowed and harsh streets of the Big Apple. Caesar Castillo (Assante) is the older sibling, an aggressive head-strong performer who also acts as manager and protector of his younger brother Nestor (Banderas). While Cesar is fire, Nestor is water, he’s the dreamy perpetually melancholy romantic who longs for the girl he left back in Cuba. Her name Marie, is also the inspiration for the film’s title song, a hit that garners the duo national attention and a shot on the I Love Lucy show.

There are more than a few loose ends and the story feels like it has been shoe-horned in to fit a mandated running time. However the visuals are so pristine, the sets are exquisitely detailed and the music is fantastic. Director Arne Glimcher has wisely chosen a fantastic cast and boldly lets the characters become likable/despicable in equal measures. The Mambo Kings is an intoxicating film.

Director: Arne Glimcher
Stars: Armand Assante, Antonio Banderas, Cathy Moriarty

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