The documentary "How to Make Money Selling Drugs" is not, in fact, a tutorial — at least not when you weigh the final product on a scale.
Granted, "Selling Drugs" — peddled to such video-on-demand platforms as iTunes and Vudu, as well as pay-per-view cable — begins in pure hustler mode. Rather hilariously, it cops the shrill, flashy style of a local TV ad for "free" legal help: You, too, can make a thousand bucks an hour — as a dealer!
But like the proverbial pill coated with sugar, Matthew Cooke's film, once it's in your system, sets about treating what ails, detailing the dangerously addictive properties of narcotics for both buyer and seller, along with the myriad injustices of the drug war.
"We hunt the poor and incarcerate them at levels unheard of in the rest of the world," argues David Simon, creator of HBO's cops-and-dealers saga "The Wire," whose sobering testimony the documentary corroborates with a wealth of stats.
Co-produced by "Entourage" star Adrian Grenier, with commentary from Woody Harrelson and Curtis Jackson (a k a 50 Cent), "Selling Drugs" is nothing if not provocative (in part by being entertaining). It proceeds rhetorically from the assumption that Americans of all stripes have in some way or other acknowledged the allure of drugs — including legal ones that, slurped and smoked, have proven the most lethal of all.
Ultimately arguing for legalization, the movie isn't brilliant from start to finish, but at least it's not deadly boring. Under the influence of honesty, the film's interviewee Susan Sarandon could be summarizing the recent crop of American political documentaries when she says of drugs, "Some of them can kill you the first time you try them, and other ones are really fun."
Also new to VOD
The man who gleefully commanded, "Everybody must get stoned!" at the start of his "Blonde on Blonde" album is bringing his Americanarama Tour to our fair state for two shows this week. So what better time to trip back through the years with Bob Dylan via video on demand?
While there's no substitute for "Dont Look Back" (and no apostrophe in the title, either!), that mid-1960s masterpiece of blistering backstage theater is hardly the sole documentary to appear in an on-demand search of "Dylan." Among the more obscure selections from the Mystery Tramp files are "Bob Dylan Revealed," "After the Crash," "Rolling Thunder and the Gospel Years" and "Busy Being Born Again" — all on Amazon, most mainly for completists, and none making much use of licensed material. Far better known, for good reason, is the definitive, 3 ½-hour Martin Scorsese portrait "No Direction Home: Bob Dylan," which, like "Dont Look Back," is newly available in high-def through iTunes and Vudu.
Likewise altering consciousness, if only on occasion, "Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus" — whose VOD release Friday precedes the pic's Twin Cities theatrical bow — follows a selfish manchild's Chilean quest to swill mescaline extracted from the titular plant. The film's wooziest scene has Michael Cera's jittery addict snatching a cactus from an old lady's garden and cradling it as if it were a newborn. Small wonder that "Crystal Fairy" caught buzz at Sundance.
Rob Nelson is a National Society of Film Critics member whose reviews appear regularly in the trade magazine Variety.