Hammett does Havana with surreal sauciness in “Little Tropikana,” Cuban helmer Daniel Diaz Torres’ exuberantly parboiled genre nonsense about a provincial cop working a weird big-city case. Per scripters, who also did the briefly banned “Alice in Wondertown,” this swollen saga is based on a nugget of truth about a shady German spy who took a photo of his Latin lover to the gallows. (Yeah, and the Coens said “Fargo” really happened, too.) Pic won the jury award last year in Havana, along with awards at a couple of smaller fests, but distribs will need to detect a way to sell this inspired but overlong madness to their unprepared publics.
One a summer’s eve, a German tourist clutching an odd bottle is found dead in the courtyard of a multifamily house after a wild costume party. Convinced there’s more here than meets the eye is Lorenzo Columbie (Vladimir Cruz, from “Strawberry and Chocolate”), a plodding cop with literary ambitions and an overactive imagination who’s recently moved to Havana and is anxious to impress his pragmatic boss, Amancio (Enrique Molina), by linking the murder to the recent high-profile plundering of a cherished crypt.
Turns out the expired Teuton is documaker Herman Pangloss (Peter Lohmeyer), in Cuba researching his parents’ checkered past. Lorenzo’s problem becomes immediately apparent, as each unusual suspect who comes forward offers a different, increasingly far-fetched version of Herman the German’s last hours. Should he believe telekinetic elevator operator Dora (Corina Mestre), sexy secretary Silvia (Thais Vlades), suspicious antiquarian Nicanor (Carlos Cruz), harlot ex-hippie Chrissy (Luisa Perez Nieto) — or all of them?
With all actors working in the spirit of the piece, the preposterous tale is told with breathless abandon. Each new recitation allows Diaz Torres to pile on even more bizarre story permutations, like “Rashomon” on a bender. Yet for all its throwaway gags and trenchant satire, by the time the Nazi midget/secret formula stuff rolls past (set to Wagner), even the most intrepid viewer may be exhausted.
As dictated by the ingratiatingly trashy material and unflaggingly sunny delivery, tech turns are suitably gaudy, with neon-drenched touches in all departments and frequent musical stings that suggest the world’s brightest radio program.