Thursday, June 13, 2024

Hotel Cocaine, on MGM+

This seriies is a lot like Miami Vice, but the fashions are 1970s polyester, instead of 1980s pastels. The commodity dominating South Florida nightlife is still cocaine and the Mutiny Hotel’s club was the hottest spot around. Roman Compte did not want to get any closer to the drug business than managing the Mutiny, but he gets pulled into a full-fledged drug war in creator-showrunner Chris Brancato’s eight-episode Hotel Cocaine, which premieres Sunday on MGM+.

Compte was born Roman Cabal, but he changed it to break from his brother Nestor Cabal, who controls the coke trade in Miami/Dade County. Instead, as the manager of the Mutiny, he hosts the wildest, drug-fueled hedonism you can find in America. Maybe he should have kept further away from the illicit business, because DEA Agent Zulio decides to make him an informant, to capitalize on his family connections and access to information, whether he likes it or not.

Frankly, even Compte realizes he should have lawyered up when Zulio threatened to take his daughter Valleria away. Instead, he talks his way back into Cabal’s life and business, soon implicating himself in several crimes. He and his family also become targets when a Colombian cartel launches a war against the home-grown Cuban syndicates, like Cabal’s organization.

Zulio just wants to bust Cabal and be done with it, but DC is more concerned about the Colombians’ Communist connections—and they well should. Of course, Latin American Marxist terrorists have always been deeply involved in the narcotics traffic. Castro was too. Of course, Cabal would never agree to a partnership if it enriched Castro. He is a drug kingpin and a killer several times over, but having witnessed Castro’s horrors first-hand, he could never enrich such an oppressive, mass-murdering regime.

Some partisans might be put off by the presence of a corrupt Republican congressman, but
Hotel Cocaine is rather astute in its references to Castro’s longtime profitable sponsorship of drug trafficking. Indeed, it will complicate efforts to negotiate a truce between Cabal and the mysterious Yolanda, who is leading the Cartel’s Miami campaign.

There is also a lot of vicarious sin and old school nostalgia for the hard-drinking, hard-partying 1970s in the first seven (out of eight) episodes provided for review. Supposedly,
Hotel Cocaine exposes the cost of unchecked vice, but it usually just makes the Mutiny look like a shamelessly fun party.

Even if its moralizing is counter-productive,
Hotel Cocaine is well stocked with colorful performances. Michael Chiklis (from The Shield) is no stranger to playing morally compromised cops. Rather intriguingly, his portrayal of Zulio starts out completely reprehensible, but than gets more human and complex in the later episodes.

Mayra Hermosillo is one heck of a sociopathic villainess and seductive femme fatale as Yolanda. Conversely, Laura Gordon is terrific as Janice Nichols, the Mutiny’s hospitality manager, who has a checkered past and carries a torch for Compte. She is neither an innocent or a passive wallflower. Yul Vazquez is also a magnetic screen presence as the restrained and almost cerebral Cabal. Even though Danny Pino is suitably intense as Compte, the desperate family man, he is often over-shadowed by the more extreme supporting players. Unfortunately, that does not include Mark Feuerstein’s dopey performance as Burton Greenberg, the coked-up owner of the Mutiny.

As a period production,
Hotel Cocaine looks very 1970s and very Florida. Frustratingly, the great film and TV composer Mark Isham was not allowed to get too jazzy with the score. Instead, it is licensed pop songs from the era that dominate the soundtrack. Still, unlike many series, Hotel Cocaine picks up momentum with each subsequent episode, rather than petering out. Recommended as a guilty pleasure for fans of Boogie Nights and the Cocaine Cowboys documentaries, Hotel Cocaine starts streaming Sunday (6/16) on MGM+.