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What Were They Smoking? The Business of Dope Smuggling in Square Grouper

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Square Grouper: The Godfathers of Ganja
Directed by Billy Corben
Magnolia Pictures
Opens April 15, Cinema Village

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Like some episodic, alternate-universe travelogue, Billy Corben’s follow-up to Cocaine Cowboys explores Florida’s marijuana-smuggling culture in the 1970s and ’80s with a stoner’s rambling obsessiveness. Divided into three sections, Square Grouper (slang for pot bales tossed into the sea during police pursuit) tracks the illicit trade from the perspectives of a sanctimonious, unsympathetic hippie collective with ties to Jamaica; a pair of middle-class Miami entrepreneurs, Robert Platshorn and Robert Meinster, who introduced high-tech into the business and went on to serve the longest sentences for marijuana charges in U.S. history; and pretty much all of Everglades City, a down-on-its-luck South Florida fishing town with impressive adaptive faculties. Corben relies heavily on network newscasts from the era, but integrates them deftly into an impressive array of interviews with surviving participants, most notably with Platshorn and Meinster (whose segment is both the saddest and most tiresomely overdetailed). He stumbles, however, with a distractingly pervasive score and showy slow pans during the interview sequences, and it’s debatable whether his film will interest non-imbibers (or non-Floridians, really) at all. It should: Square Grouper’s admirably backhanded inquiry into the social and economic costs of weed criminalization extends far beyond the wake-and-bake crowd.

 
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