After his incredible run on Breaking Bad it’s easy to get excited about anything that Bryan Cranston is involved with, as his name typically comes with an assurance of high quality and intriguing entertainment. Case in point: see last year’s Trumbo, or, more recently, his portrayal of Lyndon B. Johnson in HBO’s All the Way. Unfortunately, the latest Cranston vehicle, The Infiltrator, doesn’t reach the high bar set by any of those aforementioned projects.
Set in 1980s’ Florida, this cliché undercover caper is based on the book, The Infiltrator: My Secret Life Inside the Dirty Banks Behind Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel, by Robert Mazur, and documents the U.S. Customs Service agent’s real-life efforts to bring down the infamous drug lord and his operations within the Bank of Credit and Commerce International.
The film is directed by Brad Furman (Runner Runner) and written by his mother, Ellen Brown Furman; and though I am loathe to bad-mouth anyone’s mother, I have to say that Mrs. Furman has watched way to many television crime-dramas – probably together with her son – because The Infiltrator brings absolutely nothing new to the genre. Frankly, watching a couple of old Miami Vice re-runs would be more entertaining than watching this poorly executed movie.
Cranston plays Mazur, who goes under the guise of Bob Musella while laundering money for the Columbian drug smugglers. The film begins with the special agent being injured during an undercover operation, but for the life of me I can’t tell you what happened to him. Some kind of burn to his chest…? I don’t know…although the injury, which he easily walks away from, puts him in a position to retire early; but he chooses to take on one last job – because, obviously, he’s NOT too old for this sh!t!
Under an assignment from Bonni Tischler (Amy Ryan), Mazur partners with special agent Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo) and the two infiltrate the cartel’s underworld. After the hero almost blows his cover, by rejecting a stripper’s advances by saying he’s engaged, agent Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger) is brought in to play his fiancée – much to the consternation of his real wife, Evelyn (Juliet Aubrey.)
The faux couple get friendly with the evil-doers under Escobar, including Roberto & Gloria Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt and Elena Anaya), who they invite to their wedding/sting operation and, reluctantly, have arrested. Veteran actress Olympia Dukakis is also along for the ride as Mazur’s Aunt, who is also a mob boss(?). And did I mention Joseph Gilgun (Preacher’s Cassidy) as Mazur’s friend, Dominic, whom he somehow gets out of jail and to go undercover as Musella’s right-hand man? None of these head-scratchingly wacky details work very well; then again, maybe this is the way the Customs Service works in real life.
Drug crime drama trope after trope is used, but almost in a (sorry Mrs. Furman) Mom-approved fashion. Even though the film has an “R” rating, all of the strippers are clothed and the violence is almost cartoonish by today’s cinematic standards. Not that I need more sex and violence at the movies, but if you’re gonna go there and get the R-rating, you might as well earn it instead of making it safe for your mother’s viewing.
Despite an overall mundane and dull film, Bryan Cranston still manages to do a decent job with the lackluster material he’s given to work with (I’m letting him slide on a ridiculous scene with an anniversary cake); but I predict The Infiltrator will soon be pervading that place where old, bad movies you find on TV when you can’t sleep live. Grade: 4/10
Photos © 2016 Broad Green Pictures