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Despite featuring gunplay, nudity, illicit drugs and a setting that crosses two continents, Running With the Devil feels more like a leisurely, chemically enhanced stroll. Writer-director Jason Cabell is a former Navy Seal, who reportedly based this panoramic view of narcotrafficking on his own experiences.

While his own life may have been full of close calls and acts of bravery, his film is curiously diluted. When characters get high, pursue dope peddlers, fire pistols or fall down cliffs, there's no sense of fear or exhilaration. Cabell has a little over a dozen acting credits on IMDb, but he does no favors for the actor he supervises here.

Running With the Devil

70 Cast: Nicolas Cage, Laurence Fishburne, Leslie Bibb, Barry Pepper, Clifton Collins Jr., Cole Hauser, Natalia Reyes, Peter Facinelli, Adam Goldberg

Director: Jason Cabel

Rating: R, for violence and disturbing images, drug use, strong sexual content, and language

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

For example, Nicolas Cage drags himself from scene to scene, flipping test tubes to see if they contain an adulterated version of Colombian marching powder that has been killing addicts in the Tacoma, Wash., area. As a chef, who moonlights as a "quality control" officer for a cartel, Cage looks glum, which is easy for him to do, but rarely gets to burst into bouts of Cage Rage. When he does, it simply doesn't have the "Not the bees!" or Spider-Man Noir quality that makes his best rants palatable.

In his defense, Cabell has barely given Cage a role. He hasn't even assigned a name. Cage is simply, "The Cook."

Nobody else in Running With the Devil has parents who bothered to name them, either.

An addict who spends his spare time watching strip shows is "The Man" (Laurence Fishburne). This literally nameless fellow has a side hustle that attracts the attention of "The Agent in Charge" (Leslie Bibb).

The Cook's Boss (Barry Pepper) sends him and a grim-faced thug named "The Executioner" (Cole Hauser) on a trek from Bogotá to Vancouver trying to discover where good cocaine has gone bad.

If Cabell was too lazy to think of unique monikers for his characters, at least he has some ambition for trying to depict the scope of the drug trade. He even keeps a running tab off how the value of a kilo increases as it heads north. Despite any expertise that Cabell might have, he really doesn't say anything new or interesting about the damage cocaine can do to its users or the souls of its merchants.

Throughout the movie, it's almost as if addled guidance counselor Mr. Mackey from South Park has been sitting over your shoulder droning, "Drugs are bad, mmmmkay."

Running With the Devil follows in the well-worn footsteps of more involving films including Traffic or Maria Full of Grace. The first movie featured an ensemble cast with characters just deep enough to make viewers care if people lived, died or ODed. Cabell tries to pack a lot of material into 100 minutes but has difficulty determining which group sex scenes are essential to the complicated journey. As much fun as it was watching Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu working a pole in Hustlers, it would have gotten boring if we didn't care who the characters were in those skimpy outfits.

Cabell's stilted dialogue only accentuates how empty the whole enterprise is. I wish I could have seen Running With the Devil in a theater, so I could tell if an audience would have giggled the way I did when Bibb cynically moans, "It's like a never-ending, self-licking ice cream cone."

The title refers to a stamp that labels Pepper's bricks of white powder. After having gone through what feels like withdrawal or a bad trip, it's regrettable that Satan offers no refunds or discounts for his bad product.

MovieStyle on 09/20/2019

Print Headline: Running with the Devil

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