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A Bob Hoskins as Manuel Noriega Showtime 2000 BOOKS & THE CULTURE Postcards from Panama Lawrence Wright’s Misadventures in Greeneland BY MICHAEL KING NORIEGA: God’s Favorite. Screenplay by Lawrence Wright. Directed by Roger Spottiswoode. GOD’S FAVORITE. By Lawrence Wright. Simon & Schuster. 350 pages. $24.00. t one time, the General Manuel Antonio Noriega Story had the makings of a potential camp masterpiece. With Al Pacino as megalomaniac dictator Noriega and Oliver Stone as megalomaniac director Oliver Stone, the film project showed promise of being an over-the-top polemical gargoyle in the garishly grand tradition of The Green Berets, Scarface, or even Mommy Dearest. But in 1994 Stone and Pacino, citing budget problems, abandoned the project, and screenwriter Lawrence Wright started drafting a novel until Showtime called. Shrunk to tubedirected by journeyman Roger Spottiswoode and Noriega-ed by honorable but preposterously miscast Bob Hoskins. Noriega: God’s Favorite still approaches middling-to-high camp territory, but alas, it is only the silliest cinemazation of history since, oh, the Rambo films. \(Now there would have been inspired casting, Sly Stallone as Noriega: “Come and get me, gringos!” As much as poor Hoskins reaches heroically for dictatorial decadence, he looks throughout like a lost Cockney on Scheduled for broadcast this month \(to coincide with the release of Wright’s novel, titled simply God’s Favorite readers are the film received its big-screen premiere at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, where Wright lives. Wright is a staff writer for The New Yorker; his non-fiction books include the admirable Saints and Sinners and Remembering Satan Twins youth, In the New World orated on the screenplay for Edward Zwick’s The Siege “executive producer” of Noriega, and he takes a cameo as the Florida prosecutor who, from the courthouse steps, calls down President Bush’s wrath on Panama. God’s Favorite is his first novel. Ostensibly a fictional version of events in Panama from September 1985 \(when Noriega opponent Dr. Hugo Spadafora was when the U.S. inGod’s Favorite attempts to create a universe familiar to readers of Graham Greene: brutal corruption, dark plots, sinister betrayals, outraged innocence, international intrigue, imperial machinations. But Wright has no convincing characters on which to hang his perfervid atmospherics, and his pint-size centerpiece the acnescarred little General known to his enemies as “Pineapple Face” is a grossly buffoonish cartoon. Citing the culturally Catholic Noriega’s dabbling in Buddhism and Santerfa, Wright has described him as a “wicked man desperately looking for salvation.” But despite all the novelist’s straining for significance, his Noriega comes off as no more than what he was: a ruthless military thug and double-dealer with imperial sponsors, allowed to hold power as long as he remained useful, discarded when he became a political liability. There is some of this potted history in God’s Favorite but all in the service of farce, little of that farce intended. Oliver APRIL 14, 2000 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 33