"The drugs were everywhere!" says one of the Cocaine Cowboys who helped turn the Miami of the '80s into a hotbed of corruption, violence and conspicuous consumption. Billy Corben's shock-doc lets these powder-pushing outlaws tell their own lurid story, one of hedonistic excess, tit-for-tat shoot-outs between rival Cuban and Colombian cartels and the Reaganite crackdowns that would eventually put them out of business. Too often, however, the film crosses the line between recording his subjects' illegal activities and aggrandising them.
You certainly feel that about one of his interviewees, an enforcer for notorious Colombian 'Godmother' Griselda Blanco who calmly recounts the various murders he carried out at her behest. The only one of the movie's talking heads who's still behind bars, Jorge "Rivi" Ayala clearly takes pride in his lethal reputation, only showing the briefest hint of remorse when recalling his part in a three-year-old's slaying. Corben's other contributors may not be quite so repugnant but they are just as unrepentant, one gleefully recalling the Florida of the period as "Miami Vice without the cameras" as he strokes the 'tache that appears to be a prerequisite for any male affiliated with the narcotics racket.
"FLASHY BUT UNCINEMATIC"
For all its lively anecdotes, flashy detail and synth-heavy Jan Hammer score, though, there's nothing particularly cinematic about this sprawling chronicle. Nor do we learn anything we weren't already shown in Scarface or Blow - though there are some who might choose to heed one dope smuggler's salient advice that "salt water is the enemy of coke!"
Cocaine Cowboys is out in the UK on 23rd November 2007.