Hotel Cocaine TV Review

A sexy and violent look at the 1970s Miami drug trade from the creator of Godfather of Harlem.

Last Updated on June 21, 2024

Hotel Cocaine review

PLOT: The story of Roman Compte, Cuban exile and general manager of the Mutiny Hotel, the glamorous epicenter of the Miami cocaine scene of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. The Mutiny Hotel was Casablanca on cocaine; a glitzy nightclub, restaurant, and hotel frequented by Florida businessmen and politicians, international narcos, CIA and FBI agents, models, sports stars, and musicians. At the center of it all was Compte, who was doing his best to keep it all going and fulfill his own American Dream.

REVIEW: The 1970s were one hell of a decade for cocaine. The white powder that fueled the 1980s began its reign at the tail end of the age of disco and has been the focus of countless films and television series ranging from Scarface to Griselda. The new series Hotel Cocaine chronicles how the illegal drug trade from Cuba to Miami impacted two brothers, one a businessman trying to run a hotel that runs on users and addicts. At the same time, the other is a kingpin providing the coke. Their lives become interconnected with the DEA and threaten to draw their families, friends, and employers into a violent and deadly confrontation. Plus, Hotel Cocaine is chock full of celebrities who add fun to the mix in this soapy drama that wants to do for drugs what Yellowstone did for ranching. While it has some fun with the material and boasts a capable ensemble cast, Hotel Cocaine feels like the drug in its title: it seems like it was a good idea at first and loses its appeal once you get into it.

Set in 1978, Hotel Cocaine focuses on the real Miami establishment known as the Mutiny Hotel. There, Roman Compte (Danny Pino) works as a manager in the drug-fueled establishment owned by Burton Greenberg (Mark Feuerstein). Roman escaped Cuba years earlier with his daughter, Valeria (Corina Bradley), but lost his wife tragically to Fidel Castro’s forces. Still haunted by her death, Roman is in a relationship with teacher Marisol (Tania Watson) and living as well as he can until DEA agent Zulio (Michael Chiklis) shows up and blackmails him into connecting with drug kingpin Nestor Cabal (Yul Vazquez). Unbeknownst to most, Cabal is Roman’s estranged brother. Forced to reconnect, Roman is drawn into the criminal world of cocaine trafficking, which slowly begins to change him from an upstanding man haunted by his past to one populated by lies, violence, and murder.

Over the first seven episodes of the eight-episode debut season, Hotel Cocaine develops a narrative centered on Roman balancing his loyalty to family and friends with protecting them and himself. The duplicitous nature of his allegiances to his daughter and Marisol, his dedication to working at the Mutiny, and his reconnection with his brother impact Roman’s mental state, which sees him change from a good guy early to a willing to do anything quickly. This is a series that does not shy away from showing the body count involved with drug dealing on a scale this big. Still, it also spends much time with the era’s glitz, especially with recognizable characters showing up to do lines, including Hunter S. Thompson and Rick James. While Hotel Cocaine is rooted in similar establishments that existed, this is a fictionalized tale full of ridiculous subplots and melodrama to up the dramatic tension of what was already a fascinating story.

Hotel Cocaine review

There is nothing inherently bad about this series. Many of the performances are quite good. Danny Pino and Yul Vasquez make a nice duo playing off of each other’s allegiances to each other and opposition as well. Laura Gordon (Late Night With The Devil) is solid as the showgirl with a past who has chemistry with Roman despite his affections for others. Michael Chiklis, who has a deep resume of playing cops and authority figures, is right at home as Zilio, with only his mustache and a pork pie hat serving as distinguishing elements from his roles on The Shield and The Commish. Chiklis does not have to stretch much here, but he has much more to do in the second half of the season. On the other end of the spectrum is Mark Feuerstein as Burton. In the early episodes, Burton is a comedic element to the story, with the character ingesting every substance he can get his hands on. Feuerstein seems to be having a blast playing a character who straddles The Big Lebowski with Forrest Gump. Burton transitions to more serious material in the second half of the season but never quite escapes the jester/comic relief role he is relegated to.

Chris Brancato, who co-created Narcos and Narcos: Mexico as well as the MGM+ series Godfather of Harlem, has good depth with scripting crime/drug-centric narratives, which also pulls on his experience writing Law & Order, Hannibal, The X-Files, and more network series going back to the early 1990s. Partnering with directors Gullermo Navarro, Fernando Rovzar, and Sara Seligman, Hotel Cocaine has solid production values that evoke the late 70s while lending an authenticity via Cuban and other Latinx cast speaking in their native languages blended with English. The echoes of Castro’s reign in Cuba permeate the narrative and the drive for Roman and Nestor. However, the complex double and triple-crosses that the season relies on get progressively more and more convoluted as the episodes tick by. Because Narcos was rooted in a true story, a fascinating undercurrent of reality in the series made it a destination for viewing. Hotel Cocaine has flash and energy, but the story lacks that bite that true crime lends to tales like this by just how much dramatic license was taken to turn this into enough material for a drama series. While the music and famous faces are meant to add some realism, they don’t do enough to lift the bar on this series.

There was the potential for Hotel Cocaine to have been Narcos: Miami, but like Netflix’s Griselda, this series is more focused on the flashiness of the era and evoking the sense of drug culture in the late twentieth century than on realistic storytelling. Also, like Griselda, Hotel Cocaine feels like just another series about drugs instead of benefiting from being based on a true story. I admit that I went in with my expectations low, and by the second or third episode, I was very invested in seeing where Hotel Cocaine would go. By the end of the season, I was exhausted and underwhelmed. As far as summer viewing goes, this works as a series you can enjoy thanks to nudity, violence, and pulpy elements. I wish the story felt deeper than the tried and true plot twists we have seen many times before. Come for the performances, but don’t expect this series to be nearly as good as Narcos or Godfather of Harlem.

Hotel Cocaine premieres on June 16th on MGM+.

Hotel Cocaine

AVERAGE

6

Source: JoBlo.com

About the Author

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Alex Maidy has been a JoBlo.com editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been JoBlo.com's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.