Alibi V.25 No.10 • March 10-16, 2016 

Idiot Box

Que?

“El Chapo & Sean Penn: Bungle in the Jungle” on Reelz

It’s something a lot of us have been wondering: What the hell was Oscar-winning actor Sean Penn doing in Mexico interviewing fugitive drug dealer Joaquin Archivaldo Guzman? Ostensibly, Penn agreed to meet with the man better known as “El Chapo” in the remote mountains of Sinaloa in order to interview him for Rolling Stone magazine. At the time, of course, Guzman was on the run, having escaped from a maximum security prison. It wasn’t until after Guzman’s capture and return to prison that Penn’s little meeting was revealed. The result was a curiously self-serving article in Rolling Stone, a touch of speculation that Penn had unwittingly led Mexican police right to Guzman’s hideout and a whole lot of questions along the lines of “WTF, Spicoli?”

Now Reelz Channel has constructed a show biz-meets-drug biz documentary titled “El Chapo & Sean Penn: Bungle in the Jungle” in an attempt to answer some of these questions. The hour-long special boasts all the chop-chop-choppy editing of an “Inside Edition” episode and all the breathlessly earnest narration of a “Behind the Music” special. It promises “mystery, drama, intrigue, romance, even comedy.” The comedy comes in, perhaps, when the narrator informs viewers that Guzman and Penn “lived parallel lives” and that they were “almost predestined” to meet. Check out this eerie little nugget: Guzman was born in rural Mexico in a town called La Tuna. Penn was born in Malibu, California—which has a “Tuna Canyon Road.” Coincidence? I think not! It’s like a “Twilight Zone” episode up in here.

“Bungle in the Jungle” wastes about three-quarters of its runtime on standard-issue, Wikipedia-style biographical details. Guzman’s rise to the top of the Sinaloan drug cartel is expressed in staccato sentences, each punctuated with a dramatic, “CSI”-style musical sting. Penn’s marriage to Madonna is delivered in the same overinflated, scandal-rag tone.

There is a bit of background on Penn’s radical political activism—meeting with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuban ruler Raul Castro—but there’s little context given to it. The closest to Penn the documentary is capable of getting is interviewing a former personal assistant. The talking head experts are a random collection of TV show judges and show biz commentators. Why bother interviewing actual law enforcement officials and journalists when we can find out what standup comic Paul Rodriguez thinks of this story?

Producers try to work up a bit of conspiracy theory. According to them Penn wasn’t simply there to interview El Chapo for an article. He was there at the behest of Mexican soap star Kate del Castillo, who was trading flirty texts with El Chapo. Allegedly, the vainglorious El Chapo wanted to get a Hollywood movie made about his life and the opportunistic del Castillo wanted to scam some money for her flagging tequila brand. The Rolling Stone article was just an after-the-fact attempt to cover up for Penn’s business trip. As far as conspiracies go, this one isn’t very far-reaching. Was Penn really there to research El Chapo so he could play the guy in a biopic to be directed by Oliver Stone? Stone isn’t interviewed here and wouldn’t comment, so we’ll put that down as a solid “Yeah, maybe.”

“El Chapo & Sean Penn: Bungle in the Jungle” is a goofy, sensationalized treatment of a goofy, sensationalized story. In other words: It’s pure Hollywood entertainment industry gold.

“El Chapo & Sean Penn: Bungle in the Jungle” premieres Thursday, March 10 at 7pm on Reelz.