The wild fusillade of colorful characters and incidents in “Cocaine Cowboys” gets toned down a touch in “Cocaine Cowboys II: Hustlin’ With the Godmother,” less a sequel than an extended chapter of the previous saga of how Colombian drug lords took over the U.S. cocaine trade in the early 1980s. Director Billy Corben veers from the first film’s panoramic view to a narrower focus on small-time gangbanger Charles Cosby, who has quite a story to tell — and does it extremely well. True-crime fans will make up the docu’s core aud during midsummer release through Magnolia’s new Magnet distrib arm.
The terrifically entertaining “Cocaine Cowboys” balanced meticulous reporting with a near-ghoulish glee at the mounting body count in the steamy and violent ’80s Miami scene (which was far less entertaining for those South Florida residents who had to live through the dreadful crime wave). Corben’s return to the saga takes an unexpected turn toward Oakland, but brings viewers right back to the first film’s evil central figure, Griselda Blanco, aka the Godmother.
Cosby lays down his biography at the start, describing a happy childhood in a black middle-class section of Oakland, Ca. After his mother learned that his father had a male lover, Cosby, without a father figure from that point on, drifted almost inevitably toward the gang life. By the time he was in the 12th grade in 1984, crack cocaine was all the rage in Oakland.
Rising up the ladder as gangs began to control the local drug trade, Cosby was up to his ears in violence (starkly and ingeniously depicted here in “Boondocks”-style animated sequences by David Cypkin, who also serves as a producer and editor) and was forced to flee town for more than a year before he could return. Learning of Blanco’s arrest and impressed with her control of the cocaine biz, Cosby wrote her fan letters — to which, amazingly, Blanco responded.
Like something out of pulp fiction, Cosby and Blanco struck up a friendship and, eventually, a relationship behind bars. To his and the viewer’s shock, no high-security prison could keep Blanco from controlling her affairs. Cosby grew so informed about Blanco’s life that he’s able to recount, with exceptional detail, Blanco’s hard-bitten upbringing in Colombian slums and her own rise through the drug world via prostitution. (Pic’s story is abetted by further accounts from such Florida investigators as Bob Palombo, who served a similar role in the first doc.)
Blanco’s status as a literal drug queen (she lived in palatial digs and paid for a grand statue of her to be made and placed in the manse) was earned by any means necessary, including the murders of two of her husbands. Able to smell betrayal at long distances, Blanco eventually turned on Cosby, whom she suspected of fooling around with another woman.
It’s crackerjack stuff, punctuated by the perfect open ending: Blanco is still alive, possibly still gunning for Cosby and — most disturbing of all — out of prison. She remains in hiding, and the viewer is left to ponder if Cosby, who says he’s left crime behind once and for all, hasn’t possibly signed his death sentence by participating in the pic.
Technical aspects are consistent with “Cocaine Cowboys,” with just the right, rough-and-rowdy edge, driven by a nonstop hip-hop soundtrack.