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Warner Home Video presents
The Mambo Kings (1992)

"You write the music and let me handle the business, and we're all gonna get rich here in America!"
- Cesar (Armand Assante)

Review By: Dan Heaton   
Published: August 18, 2005

Stars: Armand Assante, Antonio Banderas
Other Stars: Cathy Moriarity, Maruschka Detmers, Pablo Calogero, Scott Cohen, Desi Arnaz Jr., Mario Grillo, Ralph Irizarry, Pete MacNamara, James Medina
Director: Arne Glimcher

MPAA Rating: R for sexuality
Run Time: 01h:45m:33s
Release Date: August 16, 2005
UPC: 085391230823
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B-BB+ B-

DVD Review

The Castillo Brothers journey to America with dreams of becoming mambo stars in the vein of such music legends as Tito Puente and Desi Arnaz. Cesar (Armand Assante) handles the business affairs and provides the face of the band, while his younger brother Nestor (Antonio Banderas) injects their music with heart and soul. Arriving in New York City in the early 1950s, they quickly meet a group of Latin musicians and become the Mambo Kings. The future appears extremely promising for Cesar and Nestor, who showcase tremendous talent and remarkable energy. Only internal disagreements can stop them now, but the Cuban past still haunts both men and may generate serious obstacles to their success.

Based on Oscar Hijuelos' novel The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, The Mambo Kings chronicles the typical rise-and-fall story in energetic fashion. This type of tale has appeared numerous times on film, but few have presented it with such intense vitality. Director Arne Glimcher (Just Cause) is well known in the art community as a powerful dealer, but his résumé only includes three films. This picture was his first offering, and it exhibits the innocence and go-for-broke style that is common with debut pictures. The opening scenes in Havana are especially lively and showcase the best aspects of Glimcher's stylistic approach. However, this breakneck atmosphere becomes difficult to maintain during the slower moments, and the story takes a step backwards during its final act. Blame must also be shared by screenwriter Cynthia Cidre for this drawback, as the act of condensing a lengthy novel brings a rough abruptness to the conclusion.

The film's highlights come during several extended performance sequences that exude tremendous sensuality and enjoyment. When the brothers arrive at the Palladium, the sense of arrival within a stunning new culture is overwhelming. Cesar's duet on stage with Tito Puente showcases his love for mambo and the music's immense power. The rising intensity pays off unexpectedly and violently, but the proof of his amazing talents has appeared. Another major sequence involves the brothers meeting Desi Arnaz (played by his son) and becoming guest stars on the I Love Lucy show. The deft combination of actual archive footage and the actors helps to create a magical sequence. Playing their hit song Beautiful Maria of My Soul to a huge audience, the Mambo Kings have achieved remarkable success and appear poised for even greater things.

Along with their musical tastes, the brothers also make strong pursuits for beautiful women, including the stunning Maruschka Detmers as Delores, who catches Nestor's eye but also shares an unspoken bond with Cesar. While she grows closer to the younger brother, Cesar enjoys the fruits of his popularity, including the blonde Cathy Moriarity as the straight-speaking Lanna Lake. Nestor's outlook is complicated by his continual attachment to past love Maria (a typically bland Talisa Soto). Her fate in Cuba played a role in their original journey to America and also brings a rift between the close siblings.

The Mambo Kings' undeniable appeal lies in its stirring music and impressive performances from Armande Assante and Antonio Banderas. Assante is actually from Irish and Italian descent, but he sells the Cuban background and generates the films most believable character. Banderas does a solid job and actually spoke all of his English lines phonetically throughout the picture. Both actors are believable as brothers and make an effective team on stage. Given these positives, it's surprising that this film does not qualify as a must-see release. Despite numerous exciting scenes, the final third moves sloppily and brings down much of the foundation erected during the earlier moments.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The Mambo Kings offers a solid 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that contains a minimum amount of defects. However, there is a significant amount of grain present, and the brightness level is sometimes lacking during the darker indoor scenes. The overall product is acceptable, but it falls short of the striking clarity inherent in the better DVD transfers.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0French, Spanishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: This film shines when the brothers and the other musicians are playing their energetic music, which resounds strongly from the 5.1-channel Dolby Digital transfer. The melodic tunes spring powerfully from the front speakers and sometimes move well throughout the room. This track lacks the complexity to really immerse us into the concert scenes, but it does offer some enjoyable moments.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 29 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish
0 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Arne Glimcher
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The Mambo Kings' lone significant extra feature is the commentary from Director Arne Glimcher, who understands the type of worthwhile material that makes an informative track. He discusses many individual scenes, but Glimcher avoids the excessive plot summary that dooms too many DVD commentaries. His strong passion for the story is easily apparent and helps to make his statements more compelling. Glimcher directed the film like a play and often utilized a single take while crafting the picture. The only remaining supplements are a brief four-minute promotional featurette and the original theatrical trailer. Filmed on a modest budget and released prior to the advent of DVDs, this movie lacks the wealth of background footage that has become the norm in recent years.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

Crafted on a low budget long before the Latin-music craze of this decade, The Mambo Kings deserves a new look for younger viewers who will almost certainly enjoy the energetic concert scenes. They may lose some interest as the story progresses, but the entertaining stamp of the music performances should remain for a lengthy period of time.


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