So you get to make a movie about the notorious Colombian cocaine king Pablo Escobar and even get the dependably excellent Benicio Del Toro to play the title role. How could anyone possibly screw that up, right? Well, how about making the movie about the lone Canadian in Escobar’s life rather than any of those other dramatic, tragic and insane things that happened? Yep, that’ll do it. I’m a proud Canadian, and even I know that’s the wrong way into this story.
Josh Hutcherson stars as the movie-killing Canadian in question. He’s a young surfer dude who immigrated to Colombia with his surfer dude brother (Bradley Corbet) in search of paradise, happiness and some totally gnarly waves, bro. They find it. They start a surf school. Everything seems great. Then Hutcherson meets the girl of his dreams in Claudia Traisac, and everything seems even better. That is, until she brings him home to meet her family. You see, her uncle is Pablo Escobar (Del Toro, as said before).
At first, Hutcherson is a little concerned, but Unkie Pablo seems like a teddy bear and sure is rich, so he runs with it. Sure, he occasionally sees some sort of insane crime, but figures that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks of the situation. So, he marries Traisac, joins the Escobar clan and then things go south. Escobar stars warring with the government and the whole family has to go into hiding. It’s a story that won’t end well, certainly not for the token Canadian.
As a “My Bad Times with Uncle Escobar” tale, the film never quite comes together. It allows Benicio Del Toro to gradually shift from a creepy uncle to a psychotic drug lord in one damn fine performance, but that damn fine performance still comes off as wasted when he’s not at the center. Hutcherson is a perfectly fine actor, but he doesn’t have much of a character to play, just a wide-eyed innocent turned scaredy-pants.
First time writer/director Andrea Di Stefano handles all of the suspense, action and violence sequences fairly well when they finally arrive, but never quite comes up with a story that can live up to the premise. He tries a variety of non-linear storytelling techniques to make up for the weak central narrative, but they never feel like distracting ticks and tricks.
Ultimately, the movie isn’t a horrible disaster, just a missed opportunity. It’s a mediocre movie with wonderful moments. It’s a shame that the filmmaker wasn’t able to shift that balance in the right direction.