If you’ve ever lived in a small town, then you probably know how it goes. There’s a story that everyone knows. It gets passed around the way stories do: neighbour to neighbour, senior to freshman, longtime customer to grizzled waitress, bored shopkeeper to just-browsing customer, and every single damn time there’s beer or coffee involved. The story, whether it is strictly true or not, is a fact. A fact of life, a way of life. It’s how small-town people connect.
The Legend of Cocaine Island is such a story, and you can tell by the title that it’s a pretty good one. It gets passed around central Florida, and the whole gang – a real cast of characters, believe me – is reunited to pass it on to us.
One of the guys tells us: “A northern fairy tale goes ‘Once upon a time…’ but a southern fairy tale starts ‘Y’all aren’t going to believe this shit.'” This is how our documentary starts, so gather round, get close to the fire, pour a little spirit into your coffee, and listen up.
The local barefoot hippie always tells the same story: he lived in Puerto Rico once, 15 years ago, maybe 20. One day, walking along the beach, he saw something large bobbing along in the water. It was a carefully water-proofed package. He opened it up, hoping for cash, but instead he found 35kg of cocaine. Nervous, and not trusting the cops, he hid the cocaine, and then hid it again, and again, until finally he buried it. And presumably, that’s where it is now. Worth, what, 1 or 2 million dollars? Just sitting in the ground.
All the locals knew the story; the hippie was fond of repeating it. But it wasn’t until the recession hit that it started to sound more like an action plan than a fairy tale. This is life-changing money to people who have been foreclosed and they’ve slid from the American dream down to a trailer park of disappointment.
But, okay, even if they did some how find the coke and smuggle it home – what then? These weren’t drug dealers. How do you get rid of the stuff?
Well, the story snowballs into an open invitation to get rich quick. And pretty much a middle-aged dad gets in WAY over his head. He’s living his biggest Scarface fantasy. What can go wrong?
You have to watch this movie yourself, and it is eminently watchable. Director Theo Love weaves a very compelling narrative; this documentary tells a heck of a story. Is there actual buried treasure in Puerto Rico? Is it retrievable? Is this a terrifically terrible idea? Would greed and stupidity make criminals out of all of us?