“The Infiltrator” arrives at a strange time on the pop culture landscape, when the most compelling stories about law enforcement and the underworld are being told long-form on television, in programs like “Breaking Bad,” with the big screen glory days of the subgenre having long since passed.

This picture inescapably comes across as an imitator, and not just because Walter White himself, Bryan Cranston, stars as U.S. Customs agent Robert Mazur, who works to bring down Pablo Escobar during the 1980s by posing as a powerful money launderer.

It’s a movie of half-measures that would have benefited from the breathing room afforded by television, which facilitates more expansive storytelling and an in-depth examination of the abundant moral gray areas inherent in this narrative. The movie has its compelling isolated moments, especially during the opening, in which a malfunctioning wire nearly blows Mazur’s cover on a low-level assignment.

But, overall, the drama is deficient. Mazur, all things considered, has a pretty easy time working his way up to the point where he’s trusted by major cartel figure Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt). The movie turns on his crisis of conscience as he grows to like and respect Alcaino, but he’s rarely in much danger, and never seems less than completely focused on the mission at hand. There’s simply not enough time to amplify the tension.

Director Brad Furman might have salvaged things by playing up the excess that characterizes this universe, with its glittering surfaces and gritty nighttime streets, a la “Scarface,” but he’s more interested in subtle realism. Cranston is the best possible actor for the story, of course, having navigated the same terrain in a far more engaging fashion in “Bad,” but even his quality work plays like a second-rate leftover.