On the DVD commentary of Cocaine Cowboys 2, rakontur director Billy Corben describes the aesthetic difference between CC1 and CC2 as East Coast versus West Coast. Because the first film revolved around Miami in the '80s, it was made to feel like Miami Vice. Jan Hammer did the score, and, as Corben has noted, the predominant color in the film was white. But with the central character of CC2 being a young black drug dealer from Oakland named Charles Cosby, the rakontur team turned to nineties films like Boyz n the Hood, Colors, Juice, and Menace II Society for a very California palette of orange and black; the music was commissioned from a Bay Area rapper named Incredible, and the film is sprinkled with archival footage from Oakland in the '80s.
If the distinction reminds you of the various Grand Theft Auto installments, it should. The DVD menu could easily be the opening screen of a Cocaine Cowboys video game, and the film’s skillful animation would fit right into the weeknight Adult Swim line-up. In short, the new film is much more consciously targeted to young males whose cultural universe descends directly from 1980s Compton.
But while moving the series to the West Coast was a good idea, riffing off of the California hood films wasn’t. Corben’s 30, so, like me, he was in middle school or early high school when all those films came out, and what he’s forgetting is that none of them were very good. Even Boyz n the Hood, easily the best of the bunch, took itself way too seriously, a sin that director John Singleton still can’t shake. (Go back and watch Boyz and Friday back to back and tell me which presents a more life-like complexity.)
Cosby’s over 40 years old now and in his short-sleeve checked shirt, he looks like your average middle-class salary man, so when his name is flashed on screen with the qualifier, “Real Nigga,” it’s hard not to laugh. If the title is meant as a bit tongue-in-cheek, okay, but the film’s interest in predicated on Cosby being exactly that—a major figure in the U.S.-Colombian drug trade—and it’s in proving Cosby’s “realness” that the film is most fuzzy. It’s obvious that he was romantically involved with “La Madrina” Griselda Blanco, the female Pablo Escobar, but how deep into the game that access got him is only substantiated by a couple of his friends and Cosby himself. Blanco was clearly a monster; even the snapshots of her are scary, but Cosby has the feel of a pretender and the film doesn’t have enough research to make me think otherwise.
The most believable part of his story is, ironically, the part that takes place in Miami, where Corben and company used court records and testimony from local detectives to corroborate Cosby’s version, and the very funny yet totally believable instructions from Cosby on how to cook crack rock. “I’m the Michael Jordan of crack cookers,” Cosby says, and I believe him. But I’m not sure he was anything more than that.
Cocaine Cowboys 2 comes out on DVD July 29. For more on the sequel and the story of Griselda Blanco and Charles Cosby, check out the article in this week's issue of the New Times, "Meet the Cocaine Queen."
- P. Scott Cunningham