Terry Funk sings!
The late 70s. Drugs. Terrible rock music. Jack Palance. Andy Warhol. Even more terrible disco music. A nerd getting doused in baby powder by a semi-nude maid. I’d go on, but this frightening description is making Cocaine Cowboys sound more interesting than it actually is. This seeming graduate of the “we’re high, so let’s make a movie” school of film is deadly, deadly dull, worth viewing only as a way to scare junior high students away from drugs, or a chance to see just how boring 70s drug culture can be.
And boring is the operative word with Cocaine Cowboys: it is soooooooooo dull, largely due to the odd continuity choices made by director Ulli Lommel. The plot revolves around a rock band and their moonlighting jobs as drug runners. To my knowledge, we never hear the name of the band, but we do see lots of long shots of cars moving from place to place and Jack Palance eating cheese with a drug kingpin. I am now older than my parents, having watched these interminable scenes.
The movie is told in flashback, in a dinner party conversation between Andy Warhol (as himself) and Dustin, a hairy, oily Rock Animal wearing a batting glove. He sings for the nameless band, which is so successful that they run drugs in the off-season. Jack Palance is their manager, Raph, and he’s eating Jarlsburg on a boat with their drug contact, a big hairy shirtless guy who looks like Bluto from Popeye cartoons. Jack calls Bluto “Tony,” but now Tony wants to be called “Phil.” Two seconds later he wants Jack to call him “Baby.” Is this a Paul McCartney song? But everyone knew him as Nancy? Jack says he and the band want out of the drug game. Baby seems strangely OK with this, so long as they make one last big score.
This drug run is really something. Two of the band members fly around bickering with each other, while the others dress like banditos and ride around in horses. Raph, meanwhile, ignores their complex walkie-talkie based code system and smokes cigars in his limo while dressed like Jimmy Buffett. There are cops at the airport so the pilots pull up and flee, dropping the drugs off at Raph’s beach house. Raph and the banditos/musicians are so enthusiastic about breaking free of their druggie lifestyles that they forget to find the drugs on the beach and instead go inside to play one of their terrible songs. By the way, this band is ugly as hell. They make Crazy Horse look like the Supremes. Then they remember the drugs are missing and go out like 25 times to go find them.
Jack in his “flabby Jimmy Buffett” phase, accompanied by Ron Howard’s even nerdier clone.
Baby/Phil/Tony/Ethel is upset at Raph for losing the drugs, although they talk in code about “the concert hall” not having any “instruments” because they’re “missing” so I could be wrong. This makes Raph mad at his nerdy typist. The place has a maid, which makes sense, but why does a beach house need a nerdy typist?. Anyway, the maid thinks the drug drop was a fake, while Dustin, the hairy singer, thinks the cook took the drugs, so the movie is slowly turning into a game of Clue.
After dinner they start a bonfire and sing a song about, what else, running drugs, with the snappy chorus:
We’re just Cocaine Cowboys
We’re just Cocaine Cowboys
We’re just Cocaine Cowboys
The problem here is that the movie can’t decide if the missing cocaine is really that important. The band keeps coming up with idiotic theories about where the drugs went (someone buried the drugs, someone stole the drugs, the drugs fled the house and joined the circus), but every so often they get bored and go play a song or have a party or fly to Florida to get their own coke. Phil/Baby/Tony/Escobar, too, has mixed emotions about this. He sends thugs to spy on Raph and the band, even bugging the beach house, but when Dustin flat out admits he has no idea what happened to the $2 million worth of “good stuff,” Phil/Baby/Tony/Chewbacca sort of shrugs him off and says everything’s cool. The thugs are workmanlike in their surveillance duties, though they do kindly drop off fish for the band’s backup singers. At some point Andy Warhol walks out of the present-day dinner party and into the flashback, to mutter some questions and take lots of Polaroid photos.
AAAGH HE’S GETTING OFF ON THE BABY POWDER
After yet another hideous song, Jack Palance’s nerdy assistant, Herman, wants to talk to the maid, who’s called Lucy. He says he hid the suitcases, and she knows why: to “keep all the money and run away with me.” He calls her a “smart little cookie.” Running away with a wimpy version of Ron Howard does not a “smart cookie” make. Later they sneak away to a spare bedroom, where the maid does a striptease and, horror of horrors, Nerdy Herman has her pour baby powder all over him. This is one of the ickiest scenes I’ve ever seen.
Funny how Lou Reed and John Cale didn’t mention “Cocaine Cowboys” in “Songs for Drella”?
At some unspecified time (it’s night in the house but bright outside) Warhol walks out of the house to take pictures. This is also when Herman and Lucy sneak out to a bog where Herman hid the drugs, and Andy snaps a few frames for the ages. They drive off in a tan Caddy with 20 kilos of cocaine, hoping to meet up with a drug dealer or a 700 foot coke addict. Dustin finds Warhol’s snapshots of Herman and Lucy fleeing with the stolen drugs, and, mental giant that he is, thinks the drugs are with Raph the manager. Paul/Baby/Tino/Sharice/Madonna’s thugs think the same thing, and they shoot Raph to death.
While this bum deal is going down, Nerdy Herman and Lucy are at the airport trying to arrange their own bum deal. Interestingly, their tan Cadillac has turned jet black! Herman puts the drugs in somebody’s airplane, but the drug pushers do a dine ‘n’ dash and fly off without paying, leaving Nerdy to whine “I want my money!” as he chases their airplane down the runway.
Back in New York, Dustin regrets accusing Raph, but says “life goes on,” which is the movie’s way of saying “Yeah, there wasn’t really much to this story.” Luckily for Raph, he doesn’t have to hear the band’s crap music anymore, but we do: they play a song in a field in a way that’s supposed to be touching but is really just aggravating. The end.
I’m really stretching to find a single nice thing to say about this movie, so I’ll just say that the band gets a good bass sound during the crappy music sequences. Everything else is just unbelievably tedious, and having now also seen “Zombie Nation,” I realize that tedium is an Ulli Lommel signature. The sheer oddness of this movie makes it worth a quick look, but don’t expect much. Not recommended.