As you get older, you tend to stop talking about buried treasure. Like quicksand, it's just something you are less likely to encounter outside of a cartoon. But what if, asks the new Netflix documentary The Legend of Cocaine Island, you knew where X marked the spot, and underneath it lay $2 million? Would you go after it? If you were the warm, wide-eyed, slightly-shady-but-mostly-just-down-on-his-luck Florida contractor Rodney Hyden, the answer is definitely yes.
The Legend of Cocaine Island isn't really all that riveting as a tale of true crime. But it works quite well as a breezy peek at mostly harmless dumbbell characters. It begins in Florida, with a shoe-averse hippie named Julian who loves nothing more than to jaw about living on Culebra, a tiny island in between Puerto Rico and the British Virgin Islands. His wife was working on a turtle preserve 10 or 15 years ago, he claims, and as he was ambling up the beach one day he found a giant sack stuffed with cocaine. He didn't know what to do, so he buried it. And remembers exactly where.
Enter Rodney Hyden, new to the community. He's moved to Julian's part of underdeveloped Florida (and living in a trailer) because the 2008 housing recession left him in a million dollars in debt. His wife weeps at the luxurious life they've left behind. Rodney still has a big heart, though, and has taken a local ADHD stoner type named Andy (picture a very skinny Kid Rock) under his wing. Partially to give him direction, but also because Andy had great weed.
Over time Rodney and Andy decide that collecting Julian's cache of coke is the answer to all their prayers. It's just sitting there! Andy knows a dealer named Dee the Cuban. He's "from the street" and has done some time, but is eager to help move the cocaine if Rodney and Andy can get it. The two "Florida Men" don't want to get in the drug game. They want to do this one thing, make a ton of money and then call it a day.
Additional players enter the story, including a pilot in silky clothes that inspires Rodney to recite lines from Scarface. Director Theo Love shoots this with a blend of direct-to-camera interviews and highly stylized recreations. As such, there are long passages where nothing "crazy" is happening, but it is all extremely amusing. The best example: Rodney and Andy finally make it to Culebra, but instead of tense scenes with drug runners, the movie spends what feels like five minutes focusing on Rodney wolfing down an enormous plate of lobster.
The truth is that this is "a great story," but there isn't that much that actually happens. It never goes quite as full-Coen Brothers as you want. It's more about how dopey these people are. Rodney isn't just plump, he is gargantuan, so riding in tiny puddle jumpers and shoveling deep holes in the Caribbean heat make for some striking images. And everything about Andy makes Jeff Spicoli seem like a PhD candidate from MIT.
We've all heard someone spin a yarn and thought "man, somebody ought to make this into a movie!" But the truth is not every story has quite the amount of drama that's needed. Perhaps "somebody ought to make this into a lighthearted Netflix documentary!" is a reasonable runner-up prize.
The Legend of Cocaine Island is now streaming on Netflix..
Jordan Hoffman is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, whose work has appeared in The Guardian, VanityFair.com, amNewYork, Thrillist and Times of Israel.