Posted on Monday, May 26th, 2008 by Hunter Stephenson
Earlier this month, we reported on the possibility of a new HBO show based on 2006’s engrossing hit documentary, Cocaine Cowboys, from uber players Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer. Today, Slashfilm gives you an exclusive review of the script for Cocaine Cowboys‘ pilot episode written by Billy Corben and David Cypkin of Rakontur, the Miami-based production company behind the doc and its sequel (set for release this July). For legal reasons, we’ve omitted specific plot details in the review.
Being familiar with Rakontur’s M.O. and work from my time on Miami Beach, I had previously tagged their HBO show pitch as “the antithesis of Miami Vice.” So, it was no surprise to see the opening credits in the script described as such. Verbatim. But while the show’s oddly subdued credits might fit this “antithesis” (old farts playing shuffleboard, an idyllic underdeveloped Miami Beach circa ’79) , the pilot is not as leery of Don Johnson’s white blazers and Michael Mann’s kooky multiculti derelicts and crabs as I surmised. Recall that the first season of Miami Vice didn’t drip with Art Deco camp under Mann’s watch: the action exuded unprecedented cinematic flash and all of Miami was game, not just Miami Beach beauty. New York City figured into Vice‘s early storyline, as it does here. Everything in Cocaine Cowboys is similarly bigger-than-life but far seedier.
Cowboys‘ opening scenes–a hasty drug deal at sea set aboard a 150-foot vessel that’s quietly sinking under the careless supervision of incredibly stoned, hard partying Rasta thugs–conjures the same crotch-grabbing gusto and hyper-imagery on display in Mr. Bay’s Bad Boys II. The similarity is blatant, even. We’re talking requisite Miami bimbos jumping off a nearby sailboat after its comically set ablaze by a flare fired by an addled rudeboy named Chicken. Think swooping Bay-mentored aerial views of hot-boobs-overboard. Will HBO execs desire this sort of acronym? After reading the script a few times, I’d bet that the sought-after demographics would get sucked in quickly…and cocaine use would probably get a nice boost nationwide. Note: nothing in the script came off like Billy Walsh’s Medellin– thankfully–but Billy Walsh would definitely set his DVR.
Continue reading the script review of the Cocaine Cowboys pilot for HBO after the jump…
Discuss: Would you like to see a new HBO show from Bay, Bruckheimer and Rakontur about the ’80s cocaine trade and culture in Miami, Florida?
What follows after the opener is a dizzying string of introductions to countless shady-as-all-hell characters; serviceably corrupt human synapses fast-connecting to fates (predictable ones?) steered by the era’s incoming cocaine boom and a certain ruthless, wealthy Colombian drug maven, who’s arrived to neuter Miami’s Cuban middlemen. Unlike current drug-hustling shows like Weeds or AMC’s Breaking Bad, the latter of which had one of the more intense, madcap debut episodes in recent memory, Cocaine Cowboys‘ pilot is a slower burn a la Elmore Leonard’s 1983 Miami caper, Stick, by way of Blow‘s horny, everyone nose energy. There’s not a signature line (or line) or act of violence here to make your id dance like a California Raisin; but the scale of Corbin and Cypkin’s sandbox is massive; their research extensive, sober, post-ironic. You can tell they’re entrenched in the pilot’s setting and lifestyle, and that’s half the battle when making a show like this.
Not a sole character in the pilot possesses a sympathetic moral center; you don’t fall for any of these people and I wouldn’t expect to in future episodes, whether it’s the charming young-blood opportunist from New York (Carlos) or the insecure, conning Jewish Miami real estate agent (Sam) with the evil, comely Latin wife (my least fave character). Unlike Breaking Bad or Weeds, these characters get into the drug game because it’s who they are, who they know or what they deserve. Moralizing caveats are out the window and if they hit the average Joe back there doing the speed limit, so what.
On one hand, that’s, um, bad, but on the pinkie-ringed other, omnipresent vice at a humid 99 degrees might be refreshing. These are all restless, hungry, compromising characters–attributes shared with the real life men and women in the documentary (a few of them are very loosely adapted here)–the kind you love to hate. The dealers’ alarming casualness to illegal activity and the deadly stakes involved, their foreign born capacities for bloodshed remain intact, just like in the doc. Just like in real life. But there’s a winking intellect missing early on from several of the dozen or so players that made the real people, namely the white drug traffickers Jon Roberts and Mickey Munday, seem so intriguing and complex. Those guys could have gone straight and made a killing, but the kicks, obscene wealth and rebellion made their souls’ smile. We don’t meet one cop, apparent narc or “good guy” in the script. Raging “Cocaine Godmother” Griselda Blanco, or a composite thereof, does not appear either, but I’m guessing she will. A certain hell is simmering, filled with a carnage stew that HBO has never served to its viewers.
Like Miami Vice, Cocaine Cowboys teases you with pro-crime sex appeal–all of the females (and several men) herein are portrayed as conniving hotties–and tons of atmosphere. Ooh, the setting. Any of these characters could catch a nasty head-shot (and one does in macabre QT fashion) and you wouldn’t care (you might cheer), but a spot-on recreation of gritty ’80s-era Miami, complete with Tab (!), fabled sniff spots like The Forge (still around), and indestructible Everglades trailer parks would bring me and many others back for more. It’s a great hook. This is where HBO is a must: the budget for this show is no joke. Add a generous amount of Spanish dialogue, debauched nudity and drug use (club restroom stalls, natch) and, sans Showtime or a brief stay at The Setai, I don’t see this happening elsewhere.
The two most appealing characters both seem to be loosely based off the doc’s real life drug runner/pilot, the enviously named Mickey Munday; they are two white guys (Darryl and Wayne) lured into transporting coke by personal aircraft by the Colombos (weed is so abundant in the MIA it’s washing up on shore, a colorful highlight). What’s slightly odd is that the aforementioned Carlos, the Colombian based in New York, shares more in common with the doc’s other standout trafficker and partner of Munday, Jon Roberts (they’re both vets, sly, affable, NY backgrounds), than do Darryl or Wayne. For those of you curious about the adaptive nature of the show, this seems like a good example of what to expect.
With ethnic rivalries brewing over cups of cafe con leche on Calle Ocho, Darryl and Wayne are intriguing Caucasian outsiders, proud of it, and looking to cooly cash in on their situation. Unlike The Sopranos, the characters here wear their agendas around their necks like “gaudy Krugerrands.”Double-crosses are like a drug to them, like a second language. But this obviousness could work. And at a time when so many shows (and GTA) revolve around the prism of a major, conflicted anti-hero, the core lifelong, complicit friendship between Darryl and Wayne is unique, promising, anti-P.C. and entertainingly carbonated. Also, racial stereotypes are a recurring punching bag in the script. Everyone takes a hit. Controversy awaits.
Corben and Cypkin are not preoccupied with creating a spiritual springboard via a heightened crime drama or with delivering hard-won metaphors. Nor do they level their script’s hedonistic buzz with convenient psychologist-types or gals with hearts of gold; they are laying an elaborate blackmarket framework on which to unapologetically show viewers how Miami came to be *Miami*; in contrast, Miami Vice crashed the city’s party and famously stamped “Hollywood approved” in neon. I’m not sure another television show has ever aimed for such a palpable, self-fulfilling goal, but I do know that Miami would welcome it (unlike other cities) and so would current pop culture (as would the sad, downsizing, dying Miami Herald). Rakontur clearly desires to bask in Miami headlines of all kinds. It’s endearing with a dash of WTF.
Ostensibly, with a high profile HBO series, Rakontur is looking to monopolize and emphasize the on-screen history of Miami for years to come; their’s is a smart business strategy lacking any formidable, organized local competition. Pop culture doesn’t need this show, per se, but I wouldn’t underestimate or devalue the “want” either, especially when Michael Bay, boats, broads and a sure to be talented cast are involved. Does HBO want a blatantly populist time-bomb rather than the usual dazzling critical darling and semi-sleeper? We’ll find out. I want to see it, even if the script didn’t shock or stun me like I expected. Even if Richard Price (The Wire) is Jenga to Corben and Cypkin’s stylish jacks.
The one thing you learn from the original doc is that the game was worth it for many of those involved; if you could handle it and you thought human life expendable, the fun was as real and surreal as the death tolls. “The Hong Kong of the Western World.” The fictional version of Cocaine Cowboys would offer three vicarious vacations at once—epic TV, nascent but scenic Miami, the Me Decade—with enough contemporary, provocative “realism” and high production value to draw comparisons to the best dramatic series around. Also looming is a feature film adaptation with Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg attached. Which will \ _ _ _ _ first?
Script Review: 7/10