1. Archive

Too much of a bad thing

Cocaine Cowboys (R) (116 min.) - Overlong, overexcited and over the top, Billy Corben's bottom-feeding documentary Cocaine Cowboys would be more enjoyable if it weren't so impressed with its subject matter and so devoted to pictures of dead bodies. A hyperventilating account of the blood-drenched Miami drug culture in the 1970s and '80s, the movie overflows with cops and coroners, snitches and smugglers, reporters and importers.

Most resemble refugees from Scarface, and all talk a mile a minute - except for the dead bodies, of course.

Punctuating interviews with archival film and crime scene photographs (some in merciful black and white), Cocaine Cowboys chronicles the explosion of South Florida's "cocaine economy" and the ensuing turf wars between the Colombians and the Cubans.

Our primary guides are Jon Roberts and Mickey Munday, twin pillars of the low-life population, complete with disco hair, criminal records and colorful tales of their exploits with the Medellin cartel. Seeing their remorselessness and raising it is Jorge Ayala, an enforcer whose lengthy jailhouse interview - delivered in English so slurred that he seems to be enunciating through novocaine - is a chilling litany of casual assassinations.

Yet the enterprise that kick-started both Miami's real estate boom and Don Johnson's television career was eventually reined in by the city's expanding law enforcement and the smugglers' shrinking brain cells. As Jan Hammer's appropriately sleazy score twangs in the background, Corben sifts through the carnage for nuggets of humor to relieve the film's atmosphere of unrepentant greed.

It's not enough; Cocaine Cowboys is a tabloid headline, a movie as oppressive and inarticulate as the lives it represents.