Cell phones, Jay-Z mash-ups, digital videography: This summer’s Miami Vice was a total makeover. But only the hard-hearted could deny missing the squelchy synth tones of original cheesemaster Jan Hammer. As it happens, Hammer is back, providing his signature drones to Cocaine Cowboys, in many ways a lost episode of the ’80s TV phenomenon. But the characters in Billy Corben’s film are real; Hammer’s participation adds ironic contrast to an uncommonly well-researched documentary charting the scary real-life crimes that made living in Miami a nightmare.
After mall shoppers were sprayed with bullets and the murder rate tripled, Miami found itself tagged “Paradise Lost” on an embarrassing 1981 cover of Time. Corben uses this infamous article as a springboard for his inquiry, which achieves an adrenalized, almost coked-up momentum as he interviews garrulous ex-trafficker Jon Roberts, a transplanted New Yorker responsible for $2 billion in Medelln drug sales. Corben talks to demoralized cops—a far cry from Crockett or Tubbs—and cynical reporters, one of whom recalls having to stow a gun in her purse. The flow of the film is its chief merit, building to a damning comment that even the renaissance that rebuilt the city’s skyline was funded by white powder. (Opens Fri; Click here for venues.) — Joshua Rothkopf