“Cocaine: One Man’s Seduction” (1983)

Vintage TV “just say no” propaganda focused largely on marijuana, only occasionally giving proper acknowledgment to cocaine, the real star of 70s and 80s drug culture.

If weed represented dark basements, interminable prog rock, and your neighbor’s unemployed son, then coke represented glittery nightclubs, high energy disco, and emaciated supermodels. Despite it being highly illegal, it was once considered so fashionable that Studio 54, a pile of cocaine shaped into a building, had a gigantic sculpture of a crescent moon with a spoon to its nose hanging from the ceiling. There wasn’t anything subtle or winking about it–jewelry companies sold 14K gold spoons and diamond encrusted vials (the better to advertise your extravagant drug habit in style), and cocaine was openly served on trays at parties, like cocktail wienies.

Because coke was the drug of choice for the beautiful people, it was also staggeringly expensive, which meant it only rarely trickled down to the bourgeoisie. But when it did, it always spelled certain disaster, as illustrated in 1983′s Cocaine: One Man’s Seduction.

The titular “one man” is Eddie Gant (Dennis Weaver), a San Diego real estate agent. Once the best in the biz, Eddie’s now long in the tooth, stuck having to “sell crackers their boxes,” while the ritzier, more high profit properties go to his younger, hungrier competition. Though he has a nice, supportive wife (Karen “Ma Ingalls” Grassle), and a nice, supportive teenage son (a baby-faced James Spader), Eddie bristles at the fact that he’s just not pulling in the big bucks like he used to, and obsesses over how it reflects on him as a husband and a provider.

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After a chance to sell a high end property proves to be a flop, a crestfallen Eddie attends a company party, where he meets Bruce (David Aykroyd), a banker and the boyfriend of Eddie’s flirty co-worker, Robin (Pamela Bellwood). Though Robin is the first to bring up trying coke to Eddie, who initially declines, clearly it will be Bruce who leads him down the path to destruction. We know this because when we first see him he’s wearing a velour shirt, and refers to cocaine as “toot.” This guy comes off as so sleazy it’s a wonder he doesn’t also offer to show Eddie his collection of child pornography in the trunk of his car. Nevertheless, Eddie agrees to try some toot, and the effects are almost instantaneous. He’s suddenly the life of the party, back on top in sales and able to buy himself a brand new car and fashionable clothing (to give you a good illustration of the time period, “fashionable clothing” is indicated by a Members Only jacket).

Of course, the good times don’t last. In fact, given the puzzling pacing of the movie, they appear to last only about a week or so, before the negative effects of cocaine take over. Coke may make Eddie a better salesman, but it also makes him a combative, paranoid one too, alienating both his co-workers and his family. To be fair, though, Eddie comes off as a bit of an uptight whiner to begin with, and using coke only seems to exacerbate that. If you’ll forgive the reference, Bill Cosby once made a joke about someone explaining to him that drugs “enhance your personality,” to which Cosby replied “Yes, but what if you’re an asshole?” Indeed, Eddie starts out as a workaholic jerk, and on coke he’s just a faster talking workaholic jerk.

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Ignoring the cautionary tale of Morty (Jeffrey Tambor), his swinging bachelor turned suicidal freebasing friend, Eddie descends further into addiction. He even lets his son take the fall when his wife finds a telltale baggie in the laundry. His son covers for him, but with no small amount of disgust. I should mention at this point that, while James Spader puts in a workman’s effort (and has exquisitely feathered hair), he’s not at all convincing as a goody two-shoes, virulently anti-drug high school student. He’d be much better off cast as Bruce, the kind of guy who might be willing to trade you half a gram for a blowjob (but only if you’re a blonde).

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Much of the last half of the movie is a checklist of addiction drama cliches, as Eddie starts getting nosebleeds, frantically searches his house for his stash (and accidentally knocks it into the toilet), steals his son’s college money to buy more delicious cocaine, blows a promotion when he shows up for a meeting super fucking high, tears apart his connection’s house looking for drugs, panics that he’s being followed, and, of course, eventually ODs. Naturally, he ODs right in front of a potential client, effectively destroying his career, because no anti-drug movie can show it affecting only one area of a person’s life, it has to be a veritable bonfire, otherwise impressionable audience members might think it’s okay to try it.

Not quite achieving the full-tilt boogie madness of Go Ask Alice, the film does allow Eddie to survive, ruined and chastened, but on the path to recovery with the support of his incredibly understanding wife and son. That being said, after watching the aforementioned Alice, Cocaine: One Man’s Seduction, despite its juicy title, is disappointingly subdued. Oh sure, there are a couple of MST3K-worthy lines (“They can’t arrest him, he’s a banker!”), and Jeffrey Tambor, a magnificent Honeybaked Ham wearing a toupee, gets a great monologue about the dangers of nose candy (“It eats, and it eats, and it eaaaats!!!”), but other than that it’s pretty bland stuff. Even the brief hint of an affair between Eddie and his drug buddy Robin is not played nearly salacious enough for a movie with the word “seduction” in the title. I expected passionate tussling near a pile of cocaine, as saxophone music shrieks on the soundtrack, and all I got was a few perfunctory kisses.

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That’s not to say that every movie about drug addiction should be like Requiem for a Dream, but Cocaine: One Man’s Seduction definitely could have used a few more freakouts, at least twice as much screaming, maybe a hallucination sequence, and one scene where Eddie snorts coke out of a busty young woman’s cleavage. If I wanted a dry, detached depiction of drug abuse, I’d watch a documentary. If I’m watching a made for TV movie about it, particularly one from the early 80s, I expect total chaos, and Cocaine: One Man’s Seduction just doesn’t deliver.

Original airdate: February 27, 1983

Available on Amazon Video

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