For one VHS release, the subtitle was changed to One Mans Poison
  • For one VHS release, the subtitle was changed to 'One Man's Poison'

[Sniff, sniff] WHOO! Let's get this thing STARTED! Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

Cocaine: One Man's Seduction is the 1983 made-for-TV movie about—surprise!—a man who becomes seduced by cocaine, which proves to be a terrible mistress, forcing him to jump around all sweaty and yell at his wife. This man is played by Dennis Weaver, an actor who appeared on Gunsmoke (which I never watched) and also released a couple country-and-western albums (which I never heard). Nevertheless, I now love him, for he is great in this film. In the spaces between his mustache and non-whitened teeth and three-piece suit, the whole of 1983 is evoked.

Weaver's soon-to-be-yelled-at wife is played by Karen Grassle, best known as Ma on Little House on the Prairie, and the couple's son Buddy is played by James Spader, in a rare non-asshole teen role.

The film starts proving its awesomeness within seconds, as the opening credits roll over upsetting pencil sketches of an ever-more-distraught Dennis Weaver. We're then plunged into Dennis Weaver's home life—a perfect TV movie of cheerful good mornings and glasses of orange juice sipped hurriedly before running out the door. But all is not well in Dennis Weaver's professional life. Long the top seller at his real estate agency, he's since plummeted to seventh, and when he's shut out of a major agency expansion, he angrily realizes he needs to up his game if he's going to stay relevant in the real-estate world. During an impromptu work party, a fun-loving lady offers him some cocaine, but he refuses....

Instead he gets drunk and goes home and yells at his wife (despite her willingness to wear a yarn dress to please him) and learns James Spader is no longer interested in going to Stanford, like Dennis Weaver had hoped.

Soon after, Weaver is seen at a card game at a friend's house, where he and three friends drink and sass-talk. Among the guests is Jeffrey Tambor, who plays a dentist who keeps going to the bathroom and coming back all CRAZYENERGETICHAHAHAHAHALET'SGODANCING! After his bathroom visits, Tambor is noticeably sweaty—a visual trope that will carry throughout the film. (Good job, makeup designer Mario Gonzalez.)

Having weathered two run-ins with cocaine (one explicit, one communicated through a friend's sweaty motormouthedness), Dennis Weaver then finds himself at another work party, this one packed with prospective clients. When Weaver tries to settle his shaky nerves with a scotch, his boss yells at him for being unprofessional and sends him to the bathroom to wash up. In the bathroom, Weaver meets Bruce, a high-stakes real-estate broker who loves cocaine. "It's not addictive!" promises Bruce. At first, Weaver declines Bruce's offer of a line—"I tried grass once, it made me dizzy"—but eventually takes a couple snorts, after which he's racing around the party like a sweaty motormouth.

Soon he's visiting Bruce the cokey realtor at his apartment, where the pair does coke and talks real-estate, along with Bruce's girlfriend, who snorts up then aggressively stirs something in a metal bowl. By the time Dennis Weaver leaves Bruce's pad, he's got his own little stash of coke, which he hides in his shaver case before getting blabbermouth horny all over his wife.

Almost immediately, Weaver's telling little lies to cover his tracks. (Why's the bathroom door locked? Do you have the sniffles? What's gotten into you??) Nevertheless, doing coke makes Dennis Weaver a more successful, if much sweatier, real estate agent, and soon he's back on top and living large.

In one crucial scene, Dennis Weaver encounters his old friend Jeffrey Tambor drinking alone in a bar. Instead of being a happy sweaty cokehead, Tambor is sad, drunk, and wearing a toupee, which Dennis Weaver compliments before Tambor tears it off, decries the messy failure of his life, and begs Dennis Weaver to stay and talk with him. However, Weaver's here to meet the coke-dealing Bruce, and by the time their transaction is done, Tambor's inconsolable, and storms off after making a vague dark pronouncement. In response, Dennis Weaver dyes the gray out of his hair and buys a cool new snub-butt Cadillac, which mildly alarms his wife but doesn't stop her from taking a joyride in the symbol of cocaine-induced financial irresponsibility.

Back at home, Weaver and wife receive a phone call, about Jeffrey Tambor, who they learn just tried to kill himself with a hunting rifle. We learn this through the wife's line, "What kind of person tries to kill himself with a hunting rifle?"

Weaver visits Tambor in the hospital, but cannot be deterred from his new life as a frantic, sweaty, highly successful real-estate agent. En route to a meeting, he starts seeing tracers in the air, but waves them away with the cocky certainty of a cokehead.

In one weird scene, Weaver meets Bruce on his yacht, where Bruce gives Weaver more coke, and shows him how to wash out his nostrils with saline. (The film does a good job highlighting the little concessions that add up to addiction—little lies to the wife, a sudden need for nasal irrigation, weird tracers in the air, but hey! I'm doing great!)

Of course shit goes haywire. Dennis Weaver takes out a loan to buy a big bunch of coke. At work, he's top of the sales chart but violently lashing out at co-workers. In the middle of real estate deals, he slips around corners to do bumps of coke. He almost has an affair with Bruce's girlfriend, who's dressed in an attractive lavender pantsuit, but she shoots him down and warns him about making stupid coke-brained decisions. Jeffrey Tambor tries to intervene but Dennis Weaver's a full-blown cokehead now—picking fights with everyone, sweating profusely all day long, and, eventually, accidentally knocking his huge baggie of loan-financed coke into the toilet. (During this scene, the soundtrack prominently features an evocative sniffing/scraping sound effect.)

After Weaver snorts his last tiny bit of remaining coke, he heads into an important real estate meeting, where his nose starts bleeding and he picks a fight with anyone who notices. Desperate for more coke, he races to Bruce's place, but is told by his sobbing girlfriend that Bruce has been arrested for intent to distribute cocaine! Things kick into serious GoodFellas-level cocaine freakout mode, with Dennis Weaver roughing up Bruce's girlfriend, digging through garbage for coke, and having a hallucinatory freakout in front of important clients, which ends with him comatose on the floor.

Then we're at the hospital, where Weaver sobs with shame on a gurney and a doctor tells Weaver's wife that her husband overdosed on coke. (She calls the doctor "a damn lousy liar!") Thanks to the coke on his person at the hospital, Dennis Weaver faces possession charges, for which he's taken to court, given probation, and sent home with his warily forgiving family. The cokey Cadillac is gone, replaced by a sensible station wagon. The film ends with a final creepy pencil sketch, this one showing the reunited, coke-abjuring family.

No film has ever made cocaine look less appealing. Good work!