Fame came late, and after some rather severe life-tests, for Bryan Cranston. So one can’t blame him for trying to make up for lost time in terms of figuring out what star vehicles to attempt on the big screen.
But he’s at least a dozen years too old to star in “The Infiltrator,” a film that has the 60ish “Breaking Bad” boy playing a deep cover Federal marshal trying to bring down the Escobar drug cartel in 1980s Florida.
And casting him as a guy whose career path and age would have put him in a desk job over a decade earlier paints the somewhat malnourished picture into a corner. His brash, adrenaline junkie partner is played by 40ish John Leguizamo, who played variations of this character 20 years ago.
His grey bearded nemesis (Benjamin Bratt) would have similarly kicked back and been enjoying his ill-gotten millions as the testosterone of youth faded away.
His junior high sweetheart wife (Juliet Aubrey) would have given birth to kids now in college, and not in need of bedtime stories.
All this gives the lurid, violent, overlong and over-familiar tale the feel of a late-period John Wayne cop picture — all bad dye-jobs, wrong-era cars and stylish splashes of dated violence sexed-up for modern audiences.
Cranston plays Robert Mazur, an undercover agent during the “Just Say No” era who realizes that “We’ve been following the drugs to get to the bad buys. What if we followed the money?”
He’ll go deep playing a New York mobster to get at the sleazy international bankers who give murderous drug lords and their cartels safe places to put their money.
That’s the pitch, anyway. The movie, through cut-rate casting (Cranston isn’t the only “Seinfeld” bit player in the ensemble) and a general loss of focus, doesn’t dwell on those targets. Instead, there are all these murderous underlings from the cartel to meet and survive meeting.
There are all these strip clubs. Roger’s Rule — the flashier the strip clubs, the worse the thriller. Strip club scenes are tossed into limp movies to help producers get dates.
And there’s a not-quite-Mr. Big (Bratt) to befriend and charm, with the aid of our mob boss’s “fiance”, another agent played by Diane Kruger (“Troy”).
“It’s the little things that get you whacked,” Mazur keeps cautioning everyone, in another line heard in a dozen earlier and better versions of this story.
Only nobody really sweats those small details. Like the pop songs on the soundtrack fitting the ’60s or very early ’70s more than the ’80s, like the cop cars that are more “Andy Griffith Show” vintage than “Miami Vice.”
Director Brad “Lincoln Lawyer” Furman handles the odd bursts of violence with skill, if not originality. He gets the ugly clothes, ugly furniture and bare-chested chain-flashing nature of the ’80s underworld right. He just puts those chains on old men who would be dead, behind a desk or retired from “the life.”
Over-the-top moments stop the picture in its tracks, here and there. Mazur must pass muster with a chicken-killing santeria priest to meet the higher-up Colombians. He has to flip out in a fancy restaurant in front of his wife when his cover might be blown, a scene so ridiculous it took me right out of the movie.
Kruger gets one lovely scene and speech, Bratt classes up the joint and Cranston, who would have been cast in the Amy Ryan (Fed boss) role if cable TV’s “Breaking Bad” had never come along, isn’t bad in the lead. Yul Vasquez, memorable as a swishy bully on “Seinfeld,” overdresses and overplays a flamboyant drug cartel accountant role. Olympia Dukakis and Michael Pare have bit roles that add nothing and stop the picture cold. Joseph Gilgun is wasted in a small role as an actual convict released from prison to help Mazur seem more legit.
When all that’s taken into account, “The Infiltrator” feels like a cable TV mini series squished into two hours, with the budget, supporting cast and period piece compromises to match.
Cranston deserves better than bit parts in “Argo” or “Godzilla” at this stage of his career. But if cable is where the “LBJs” are, he should at least have the sense to know that’s who he should be playing.
MPAA Rating:R for strong violence, language throughout, some sexual content and drug material
Cast: Bryan Cranston, John Leguizamo, Diane Kruger, Benjamin Bratt
Credits: Directed by Brad Furman, script by Ellen Sue Brown. A Broadgreen release.
Running time: 2:07