The Mambo Kings

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
The Mambo Kings Movie Poster Image
Cuban brothers bring dazzling music to NYC.
  • R
  • 1992
  • 104 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The movie stays true to the Latin-American "macho" culture of the 1950s. The honorable heroes make a sincere effort to keep their distance from gangsters who have a chokehold on the New York nightclubs. Women are seen as little more than objects of desire in most instances.

Violence

Man is attacked with knife, his throat is cut; he's bloodied but survives. Girl punches obnoxious customer. Shooting, knifing in a nightclub. Deadly car accident.

Sex

Several scenes of passionate lovemaking with total nudity; one scene with partial nudity.

Language

Minor cursing on a few occasions: "son-of-a-bitch," "ass," "whore," "hell."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Smoking and drinking throughout; lead character is drunk in a number of scenes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that there are several scenes of explicit sexuality with total nudity, and other incidents with partial nudity. Characters smoke and drink throughout, with one character drinking to excess on a number of occasions. One volatile brother is the victim of a knife-wielding villain who, in a close shot, cuts his throat and leaves him for dead. Other violent moments include a nightclub shooting and a fatal car accident.

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What's the story?

The talented, passionate Castillo brothers, known as The Mambo Kings, leave their native Cuba to find fame and fortune in New York City. Nestor (Antonio Banderas) is the quiet one still yearning for Maria, the woman he left behind. Cesar (Armand Assante), the tightly-wound ladies' man, is the center of attention wherever he goes. Fighting the demons of their souls, as well as the gangsters who run the Latin nightclubs of the city, the Castillos work hard, perform their dynamic music, and find love and sorrow in their new country.

Is it any good?

The music is soulful and vibrant. The throbbing heart of the Latin culture in 1950s New York permeates every scene in this uniquely colorful, beautifully photographed and designed movie. The tale, however, is familiar. Gifted, but self-destructive artists with dreams of greatness let their fragile spirits defeat them. And there's nothing subtle about this film, even when the story calls for it. While Banderas makes a dazzling American debut, Assante's performance, along with a number of other actors, is obvious and over the top.

Still, the movie is worth seeing for the music, the dancing, and the heartfelt attempt to recreate an authentic picture of this transplanted Cuban culture.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the Castillo brothers' lack of communication and/or miscommunication hurt their relationship. How did the movie's music reflect the character of the brothers?

  • The filmmakers carefully created a certain look for this movie. How did the use of bright colors, vivid lighting, and authentic 1950s sets help them evoke a sense of time, place, and character?

Movie details

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