The Legend of Cocaine Island (2018)

Directed by Theo Love

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The Legend of Cocaine Island has a lot in common with another recent docudrama, 2018’s American Animals.  Near the beginning of both movies we’re told that the assorted narrators here are unreliable, a framing device which never detracts from the quality of the story and which enables the filmmakers to take their fare share of artistic liberties.  In Cocaine Island those liberties are stylistic, turning this real world story into something like what you’d find on Vice.

This story lends itself so clearly to a movie.  It’s neat and tidy, with a clear, goofy hero (in spite of certain flaws, just as with any good character), a series of antagonists and a good amount of wish fulfillment.  Hell the movie ends by giving you the coordinates of the buried bag of cocaine which Rodney Hyden was searching for and never found.

That cocaine was found in Puerto Rico, approximately $2 million worth, and was then buried.  Rodney heard this story from a series of friends, and after his life had come crashing down thanks to the 2008 recession, he decided to go after the lucrative duffel bag.  After all, it was just sitting there, waiting to be taken.

Rodney, as many people tell you (not that it’s not already clear) is far from a criminal mastermind.  He first must figure out how to get the drugs back to his home in Florida and then how to distribute it.  A friend of his, Andy, knows a man who can sell the product should they be able to get it.  Soon after he’s introduced to a suave pilot who claims he can fly the drugs into the States once Rodney locates it.

Eventually there will be a bit of a twist, but the story very much follows the arc you expect in a movie like this.  Motivated by greed, you’re bound to get burned at some point.  Greed may not be the right word, because what drives Rodney is understandable. It’s the same thing that would drive any of us should we be a bit inebriated.  It’s the things of fantasies and daydreams, and since there’s no apparent victim, well all the better.

And yet this motivation, when left unchecked, necessities some kind of consequence.  You see it in so many fictional movies like this, where the character gets what they’re after and then pays the price.  Goodfellas is a good example, movies where characters achieve some version of the American (read: capitalist) dream and then see the other side.

All of this is presented in a very flashy manner that might wear thin on some.  I found it quite exciting and charming, however.  The Legend of Cocaine Island is told with the same type of energy as someone telling it to you over a campfire.  There are talking head segments that are blended into staged recreations of various moments of the film, with Rodney playing himself, almost gleefully so.  He inhabits this retelling of his own story like the Edward Bloom character of Tim Burton’s Big Fish, or like any dad out there excitedly telling you the same story for the 1,000th time.  And I found that energy a bit infectious.

It’s a tone that the movie can only get away with so long as this is a victimless crime, and because of how things work out, it pretty much is.  In fact the biggest victim, outside of Rodney’s family, might even be Rodney himself.

Up Next: 3 Faces (2018), Metropolis (1927), It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books (1988)

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