'Drug Wars II' overdoses on stilted language, stereotypes

TELEVISION REVIEW

January 17, 1992|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Much of the time, "Drug Wars II" is one toke over the line. Too much good-guys/bad-guys, too many stereotypes, too much wooden dialogue . . . and just too long.

But, then, there's the acting of John Glover and Dennis Farina. They don't enter the film until it's almost an hour old. And there is never enough of them during the remaining three hours. But how they do light things up when they are on-screen -- especially Glover (a Towson State University graduate).

"Drug Wars II," which begins at 9 Sunday night on WMAR-TV (Channel 2), is the sequel to "Drug Wars: The Camarena Story," an NBC-TV dramatization of the real-life murder of Drug Enforcement Administration Agent Kiki Camarena. A docudrama that claims to tell the "real" story of the DEA's effort to destroy Colombia's largest cocaine cartel, its full title is "Drug Wars: The Medellin Cartel." (You can't have a proper docudrama without a colon in the title.)

Typical of docudrama, it muddles fact and fiction, real-life characters and cooked-up events until it is impossible to sort out what is historically true and what is the invention of executive producer Michael Mann, of "Miami Vice" fame.

In Mann's telling of events, the Medellin cartel controlled not only the flow of cocaine from Colombia to the United States, but also much of Colombia's government. The cartel used terrorism to maintain its hold on the drug market and the best of Harvard Business School to make the fruits of its control multiply into billions and billions of dollars. The cartel was led by Don Pablo Escobar Gaviria (Gustav Vintas) and Jose Rodriguez Gacha (Geno Silva). Gaviria was the brains; Gacha the muscle. They are the bad guys living high on the hog.

The good guys -- the agents of the destruction of Gaviria and Gacha -- are DEA officers Thomas Vaughn (Alex McArthur) and Mike Cerrone (Farina), DEA informant Lloyd "Loco" Garrison (Glover), Colombian Judge Sonia Perez-Vega (Julie Carmen) and Col. Roberto Chavez (Michele Placido) of the Colombian Police.

They are all brave, wonderful, selfless people who pay a huge price to break the cartel -- all except Garrison, which easily makes him the most believable and interesting character in the film. Glover plays Garrison as somewhere between obnoxious and psycho -- a guy who looks punk-rock but sings Christian hymns at the top of his lungs -- a deliciously unpredictable blend of non-stop trash-talk and hustle. Garrison talks his way into the cartel's confidence and hooks its members into a fatal DEA money-laundering sting, orchestrated by financial whiz Cerrone.

The last two hours of film, which air Monday night at 9, are far better than Sunday's installment -- as the trap is laid for Gaviria and Gacha and more air time is given to Garrison and Cerrone. But the big-bang ending is all refried "Miami Vice" with speedboats racing, rock music pounding, Uzis blazing and existential heroes not saying a word as they go mano a mano with death.

It might sound good. But you'll be surprised at how tasteless this "Miami Vice" platter is when it's reheated and buried under a goopy sauce of pseudo-history and celebration of the DEA.

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