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Close but no (Cuban) Cigar

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In some cities, director Steven Soderbergh's epic look at revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara has been screened as two separate films: Che: Part One (subtitled The Argentine during production) and Che: Part Two (Guerilla). Locally, however, we're getting the whole enchilada in one 4-1/2-hour version. But whether viewed in one or two sittings, the fact remains that Soderbergh's ambitious but erratic film wastes its generous running time by failing to really burrow beneath the media myth, determined not to provide much insight into the individual whose iconic image has adorned countless T-shirts and posters.

The first half boasts the stronger material, as the idealistic Che (commandingly played by Benicio Del Toro) helps Fidel Castro (Demian Bichir) and his gang of rebels overthrow the Batista regime in 1950s Cuba. The second half, which finds Che taking the revolutionary road to Latin America, becomes bogged down in repetitious material, with all the additional jungle treks, gun battles and soldiers' squabbles adding nothing except minutes to the length.

Matt Damon turns up in a cameo that's about as brief (and pointless) as his blink-and-you-miss-him appearance in Francis Coppola's Youth Without Youth.

If nothing else, this moderately engaging film has only increased my desire to see 1969's Che! (starring Omar Sharif as Che and Jack Palance as Castro), a colossal dud that's reportedly one of the all-time worsts. At least that's some sort of distinction; this Che, on the other hand, remains resolutely middle-of-the-road.

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