"YOU WANNA KNOW how to make money selling drugs?" the rapper 50 Cent asks at the outset of How to Make Money Selling Drugs. Even if you don't, the fact you've sat down to watch the film implies a "yes." Fifty's got you there.
But supposing that "yes" is sincere and enthusiastic, this faux-edgy documentary produced by Entourage star Adrian Grenier isn't the comprehensive guide to running the block its title purports. Curtis Jackson is quickly scuttled aside to make way for a cast of commentators—small-time dealers, adjudicated former kingpins, cops, lawyers, Susan Sarandon—who pontificate on the cat-and-mouse of the drug trade as we're guided, rung-by-rung, from street-level marijuana dealers up to murderous South American narco-lords.
The film begins cheekily, treating the drug market like a videogame and offering advice on how to level up ("Tip! Pack a gun!" and "Tip! Be ready to use it" and "Hint: Join a drug gang"). It's clear Grenier and his co-producers are impressed with themselves for tackling a somewhat-taboo subject with such insouciance.
But this treatment feels superficial. There's no shortage of cartoony facts and figures on drug sales flying across the screen, but practical advice is scarce. If the filmmakers intend this to be an instruction manual, it's a meager one.
It's not until the film's second half that it reveals its true purpose, sobering its smirk and lapsing into a well-trod discussion of the evils, and pointlessness, of the war on drugs. There are poignant and interesting moments in How to Make Money Selling Drugs, and its point is valid: drug policy is largely convoluted and ineffective. But we've heard that before—a season or two of The Wire will get you the same message, and probably better pointers for launching your own drug cartel. You know, if you want them.