Loving Pablo (R)

Drama 125 min. October 5, 2018
By Alan Scherstuhl
Double-stuffed with kill squads, killer '80s couture and mood-killing howlers, Fernando Leon de Aranoa's Loving Pablo is more a greatest hits than a story, the kind of radically compressed life-of-a-legend movie where everything happens in a giddy, ridiculous gush — except for when it slows down to dwell on horrors. About a half-hour in, cocaine king Pablo Escobar (Javier Bardem) argues with his wife about his efforts, after his election to the Colombian congress, to take on the president himself; she then announces she's pregnant, but he interrupts her to take a life-changing phone call. Just minutes later, we flash back to see the death of a man he ordered murdered — the dude has a raving dog tied to his back that bites his neck when other dudes whack it with a bat. And then we watch Escobar, at dinner with his lover, the television journalist Virginia Vallejo (Cruz), droning on forever about all the ways she'll be raped if things go bad for him.

Cruz narrates, explaining a movie that seems set on fast-forward, laying out the cartel's business in the U.S. and then Panama, the relationship between rival cartels and the DEA and the CIA, and how Vallejo discovers that maybe Escobar's charitable work doesn't justify his crimes. Escobar's spates of threats and murders play as grisly comedy, amusing flourishes rather than the snuffing of human lives.

Cruz has to scream and weep a lot, the editing and scripting doing her no favors. Bardem's role, the kingpin family man incapable of satisfaction, is easier, but he's continually upstaged by his fat suit, even when he flings spaghetti in anger or lets his beard consume his face.
Fernando Leon de Aranoa Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Peter Sarsgaard Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

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