Writer-director Zak Forsman's pulpy caper about a principled, immaculately bearded cocaine smuggler trying to outwit a crooked, fabulously bearded DEA agent channels decades of morally murky Los Angeles crime flicks, from To Live and Die in L.A. to Heat to Drive. But it's got a few sharp moves of its own, particularly when it digs into the ingenious how-to of sneaking contraband across the Mexican border. Cinematographer Addison Brock III makes the golden days and swimming pool–blue nights look stylish and expensive, and Deklun's synthy score pulses with phony but attractive urgency. Things get wobbly when our lone-wolf smuggler (John T. Woods — the name matches the beard) forsakes his characteristic meticulousness to partner up with an old flame (Paulie Rojas), now the moll of a far less scrupulous member of the drug trade. That the cliché of the smooth operator who puts it all on the line for another guy's gal goes at least as far back as Casablanca isn't the problem; it's that Rojas's femme fatale is so wooden she'll give you splinters. But Ross Marquand's bug-eyed turn as that wastrel lawman is frightening and mercurial. Forsman -- whose loose inspiration was Snowblind, a 1976 memoir by his retired drug-smuggler father -- brings a refreshing crispness to the foot chases and fights, and there's a fun cameo that supports the retro-'80s vibe nicely. It's a bummer that he ultimately chooses to dilute his concoction with a hoary happy ending, but you still get your 85 minutes' worth of cheap thrills. In a 95-minute picture, that ain't bad.
Zak ForsmanJohn T. Woods, Paulie Rojas, Ross MarquandZak ForsmanKevin K. ShahThe Sabi Company