Havana is a dangerous playground for a waylaid Canadian in Gil Bellows and Tony Pantages’s new film, a comic thriller that gets halfway interesting and then cops out: close, but no Cuban cigar.
Things start promisingly enough as vacationing Canadian businessman Jack Petty (Bellows) takes a tarot card reading with ominous undertones: It gets across the basic idea of a flummoxed Canuck in an exotic locale while hinting that sinister forces are afoot. Jack’s innocent-abroad act clashes with the veteran moves of Harry Smith (Greg Wise), a self-styled party animal who volunteers to be the newbie’s guide to the local nightlife, and whose coked-up gregariousness belies a scary ruthlessness. Harry’s into some bad stuff, and so is Jack, if only by association – that is, until a fateful (and fatal) encounter that requires our hero to step, clumsily and tentatively, into a dead man’s shoes.
Sweaty and gaunt behind a truly unfortunate mustache, Bellows plays Jack as a naïf trying to stay afloat in a sea stocked with red herrings, many of whom are played by recognizable Canadian actors (yes, that’s Don McKellar adding another effervescent accent to his repertoire as an oily, indeterminately European hood). If Bellows is thoroughly out-acted by Wise in the first section of the film, that’s by design: Harry’s charisma is meant to beguile the audience along with Jack, and Wise etches a charmingly memorable rogue in limited screen time. He’s so entertaining, in fact, that his character’s departure creates a vacuum that the rest of the ensemble can’t fill in the home stretch.
3 Days in Havana is nicely produced despite its low budget: the camera manoeuvres and editing are sharp and clean and a protracted water-boarding sequence is appropriately squirm-inducing. (It’s also presaged by an insert shot of a portrait of Stephen Harper, which is probably meant to be satire.) Bellows and Pantages aren’t especially earnest filmmakers, and their film’s trashy, pulpy vibe makes it a bit of a likeable outlier at a time when a lot of Canadian genre cinema is down in the mouth. Their movie has a grin on its face, but the problem is what it has up its sleeve, which is at once unexpected and extremely unsatisfying. It ultimately comes down to the difference between a magic trick and cheating – between sleight of hand and keeping two fingers crossed behind your back.