Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is the star. He's quick-witted, engaging, a natural big man. As Chavez is showing Stone a corn-processing plant built by Iranian technicians, he deadpans: "This is where we're building the Iranian atomic bomb ... the Corn Bomb." I don't think this is Stone's intention, but Chavez comes across as an ironic post-modern version of that Romantic Era archetype: the Bonapartist adventurer.
Evo Morales, the first Amerindian president of Bolivia, is impressively calm and focused — in contrast to Stone who needs to suck on an oxygen bottle when he arrives in La Paz. But, after chewing on some coca leaves with Morales, the former head of the coca growers peasant union, the suddenly energized movie director insists that the (for once) slightly flustered Morales go out in the Presidential yard with him to play some soccer.
Not surprisingly, Stone, who doesn't speak Spanish, is a weak interviewer, a pushover. The art of interviewing celebrities is setting up their well-worn punchlines, but the over-prepped and over-eager Stone sometimes can't resist including their punchlines in his questions.
"South of the Border" will amuse long-time observers of Stone's various psychological tics. When he was on top of the world in the late 1980s, he annoyed me, but when everybody decided to hate him after JFK in 1991, I started to rather like the guy.
The whole trip seems organized around Stone's perpetual Daddy Issues as he goes looking for a surrogate father among the lefty strongmen of Latin America, which is kind of weird in somebody old enough that he was George W. Bush's classmate at Yale before he dropped out and went to Vietnam. (Of course, George W. had daddy issues, too. Here's my review of Stone's W.) Inevitably, Stone's next movie will be about Hitler and Stalin (although, no doubt, it will really be about why Lewis Stone didn't love little Ollie enough). Maybe Stone will finally find his father figure in Stalin.
The best part is when Stone interviews the one female Presidente, the wife of Kirchner of Argentina, who ran his wife in his place when he got term-limited out of office. I can't recall Stone ever creating an interesting female character, and he seems peeved that Mrs. Kirchner has gotten into the Leftist Leader Boys Club of his dreams on a technicality. So, he asks this rich and spoiled looking political wife, "How many pairs of shoes do you own?" She immediately recognizes this reference to Imelda Marcos and chews an abashed Stone out for several minutes for his sexist impertinence.