Fico Fellove is the owner of El Tropico, a swank nightclub in the late 1950s. Fico lives for his family and his music, but the harsh realities of Batista's dictatorial regime threaten to destroy both. His brother Ricardo becomes a revolutionary and his other brother Luis joins the democratic opposition while his father Federico, a well-respected university professor, believes that Batista should be replaced by constitutional, peaceful means.
When Ricardo is arrested for anti-regime activities and threatened with execution, Fico calls upon an old prep school friend, now a police captain, for help. Due to the intercession of Captain Castel, Ricardo is released from jail. Although Fico suggests that Ricardo should go to Miami or New York City for a while, Ricardo refuses and instead joins a communist rebel band headed by Che Guevara.
In addition to political intrigue, Fico is also approached by Meyer Lansky (Dustin Hoffman), a high-ranking member of New York's Genovese crime family, who wishes to open up a gambling room at El Tropico. Fico, however, intends for his club to remain a place of music and turns down the offer. When a bomb later explodes at the club, killing the club’s star entertainer (who was also Fico’s love), Fico assumes that Lansky is behind it. However, in the increasingly unsettled climate, he cannot be certain.
Luis soon becomes connected with the plot to seize the presidential palace, kill Batista, and restore democracy to Cuba. The plot fails and most of the attackers are killed. Luis escapes but is killed later by Batista’s secret police. At the urging of his mother, Fico tries to cheer up Luis’ distraught widow Aurora (Inés Sastre). Fico and Aurora begin a relationship and fall in love, but events intervene: the Communists seize the power after Batista flees the country. Fidel Castro declares there will be no elections and Che Guevara oversees the arrests and summary execution of all those who those thought to have supported the Batista regime. Among those arrested is Captain Castel. Fico seeks out his brother Ricardo, now a high-ranking officer in the new regime, for help. Despite Castel's having saved his life, Ricardo does nothing to prevent Castel’s execution.
Ricardo, who had otherwise distanced himself from his family, later visits his uncle Donoso (Richard Bradford), a tobacco farmer and cigar maker. Donoso feels that while Castro may be in power now, “the land endures” and he says that the farm would one day pass to Ricardo. Ricardo, however, announces that the reason for his visit is to appropriate the farm for the state. In a fit of anger, Donoso has a heart attack and dies. Ricardo, overcome by grief, attends the funeral and shortly after commits suicide.
The revolution also has its effects on Fico’s club. The musician’s union, now controlled by Castro, has declared the saxophone to be an imperialist instrument and forbids its use. The club is eventually shut down on a flimsy pretext. After a chance meeting with Castro, Aurora is declared Revolutionary Widow of the Year and begins to work for the State. This causes Fico and Aurora to break apart.
Seeing the family torn apart and decimated by the revolution, Fico’s parents beg him to leave Cuba and start a new family. Reluctantly, Fico prepares to leave, procuring exit visas for himself and Aurora. In a last chance to convince her to leave, Fico barges in on a reception for revolutionary leaders and Soviet Bloc ambassadors but Aurora refuses to go. After a last toast to a free and democratic Cuba, Fico leaves the reception. He says his goodbyes to his parents (receiving his father’s prized pocket watch) and leaves Cuba. At the airport, most of his money and possessions (including his father’s watch) are confiscated.
Fico begins a new life in New York. By working as a dishwasher and piano player at a Cuban club, he hopes to save enough money to bring the remaining members of his family to America. He again meets Meyer Lansky, who offers Fico a Cuban nightclub in Las Vegas. Fico again refuses. While cleaning up one night, he has another meeting with Aurora, who is in New York as part of a Cuban delegation to the United Nations. He now realizes that Aurora is like Cuba: beautiful, alluring, but ultimately damaged and unattainable. He decides now that his cause is to build a new life until he can return to the city he lost. Fico recites a poem by Cuban nationalist Father José Martí and opens a new nightclub in New York.Andy García as Fico Fellove
Inés Sastre as Aurora Fellove
Tomas Milian as Don Federico Fellove
Millie Perkins as Doña Cecilia Fellove
Richard Bradford as Don Donoso Fellove
Nestor Carbonell as Luis Fellove
Enrique Murciano as Ricardo Fellove
Dustin Hoffman as Meyer Lansky
Bill Murray as The Writer
Jsu Garcia as Che Guevara
In one scene of the film actor Jsu Garcia as Che Guevara is shown after an ambush casually shooting a wounded Fulgencio Batista soldier where he lies. Later in the film the Guevara character asks Andy Garcia's character why he "bothers with such scum", in reference to a former Batista officer who was executed that morning.
The film however also depicts Cuban dictator at the time, Fulgencio Batista's "Bureau for the Repression of Communist Activities" (BRAC) unit, executing a prisoner at La Cabaña and shooting a wounded insurgent who had attempted to storm the Presidential palace during the growing popular rebellion.
Bill Murray appeared in the movie as the character of "the Writer". He shows up early in the movie asking Fico for a job, and hovers around Fico, commenting on the absurdities of life, though never playing a clear part in those absurdities. According to the “making of” video, the role is similar to that of a Greek chorus and is really the personality of the movie's author G. Cabrera Infante. Again, according to the making-of video, Murray was given some latitude in improvising dialogue – the scene toward the end where Murray and Hoffman (as Meyer Lansky) discuss egg creams was almost entirely improvised.
The film generally received unfavorable reviews. Rotten Tomatoes' collection of critics gave the film a 25% approval rating, with the stated consensus that "what starts as a promising exercise devolves into an overlong, unevenly directed disappointment."
The audience of the Internet Movie Database, the leading movie reviewing website, rated the movie 6.7/10 with a preponderance of enthusiastic reviews.