I watched this before listening to the debut episode of Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary’s Video Archives podcast. The synopsis: A rock band is on the brink of superstardom, and all that stands in the way is a lost bag of cocaine worth two million dollars.
That description conjured visions of a touring band, mixed up with the drug trade, racing the clock to find the missing drugs before their big show. But the film’s ambitions prove far less ambitious. The band does front a drug smuggling operation, but it involves flying the drugs up the east coast to a small Montauk Airport.
As the film opens, the band yearns to go straight. But of course they have to do “one last job.” And of course, the cops show up at the airport during said “last job.” The plane crew panics and drops the drugs on the beach near the band’s house. But when the band goes to retrieve them, the drugs are missing. We get lots of twilight shots of the band searching the dunes on horseback, interspersed with them jamming at their beach house.
Of course, the mob wants their drugs or their money, and they send a heavy to spy on the band from a boat anchored off shore. More jam sessions and horseback shots. A weird scene involving baby powder. Then Andy Warhol turns up (playing himself) and solves the mystery. Roll credits.
It’s a hang-out movie with musical interludes masquerading as a crime thriller. I haven’t mentioned the star, Jack Palance, who plays the band’s manager. He proves inconsequential to the plot, and solos most of his scenes, leading me to believe they only had him for a few days and lacked a shooting script. That said, he’s professional and delivers an entertaining Palance tough-guy performance.
After listening to the podcast, I learned the nominal star, second-billed Tom Sullivan, who plays the band’s lead singer, was a real-life drug smuggler who met Warhol at Studio 54. Warhol connected him with director Ulli Lommel, and Sullivan staked the production using drug money.
That realization lends the film a meta quality. It’s about a drug smuggler longing to become a legit singer, made by a drug smuggler looking to become a legit singer and actor.
And Sullivan can sing. The titular tune proves catchy enough, and I suspect fans of 70s rock might enjoy the other numbers. Sullivan’s career never took off, however, and he died two years later.
So what to make of Cocaine Cowboys? I can’t say I enjoyed it, but as a novelty it intrigues. Your mileage may vary, but I’d recommend listening to Tarantino and Avery’s discussion before viewing.