January 19, 2007 / 5:47 AM / 12 years ago

"Cocaine Cowboys" relives Miami's high times

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - As sensational as “Scarface” and a lot livelier than that “Miami Vice” movie, “Cocaine Cowboys” vividly traces Miami’s trajectory from sleepy retirement mecca to Blow Central, USA.

The documentary might share its title with a 1979 Jack Palance-Andy Warhol clunker, but the newer film, with its colorful cast of real-life characters and a deliberately frenetic “coked-up” editing style, has the feel of a narrative feature, complete with a two-hour running time.

Of course, it also doesn’t hurt to have Jan Hammer doing your soundtrack, but the end result makes for some very intriguing viewing.

Invaded by Colombia’s powerful Medellin Cartel in the late 1970s, Florida’s then wide-open shoreline made way for a $20 billion annual cocaine business, triggering a violent turf war responsible for tripling Miami’s homicide rate by the early 1980s.

While Miami has since undergone yet another metamorphosis as an ultra-glam celebrity hotspot, directors Billy Corben and Alfred Spellman, who previously helmed 2002’s controversial “Raw Deal: A Question of Consent,” maintain that its gleaming skyline stands as a lingering monument to all the drug money that snowed on the city.

Although their story could have been told a bit more concisely, they get a lot of good stuff out of their talking heads, primarily those belonging to Jon Roberts, a transplanted New Yorker who figures he moved more than $2 billion worth of cocaine for the cartel; Mickey Munday, a pilot who smuggled more than 10 tons of coke from Colombia to the U.S.; and Jorge “Rivi” Ayala, a charismatic contract killer still doing time for his numerous hits.

The most fascinating figure doesn’t even appear on camera, save for a handful of archival photographs. Griselda Blanco, a.k.a. “La Madrina” a.k.a. “The Godmother” a.k.a. “Black Widow,” casts a fearsome shadow as the Colombian “queenpin” who was credited with single-handedly sparking Miami’s bloody drug wars.

It is a safe bet she would have made mincemeat out of Tony Montana and his little friend.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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