Stars: ** 1/2
Rating: R for drug use, nudity
Run Time: 2 hours, 2 minutes
Did anyone think to consult Martin Scorsese before they ripped off his mob/drug classic “Goodfellas”? From the deadpan voice-over to the ubiquitous presence of Ray Liotta, this project smacks of something intriguing, but uncomfortably familiar.
Johnny Depp is user/abuser George Jung, a respectable middle class lad seduced by the alluring lifestyle of drug-trafficking, and the relentless river of ensuing wealth. (Think Liotta’s providential Henry Hill). George’s heady trajectory to the top of his game is what snow-white dreams are made of. From his humble beginnings at the helm of the mellow, kick-back business of pushing pot, Jung ushers in the 70s by being crowned the king of cocaine – the first American to import powder coke to the U.S. on a large and lucrative scale.
Jung whirls giddily about in the center of the maelstrom while the white hipster-high explodes on the American culture like an atomic bomb. Heady stuff, but what goes up must come down – often in flames. Bottom line, Jung wants something or someone constant in his life. Be it by illness or neglect, a series of serious relationships go sour, leaving Jung with a damaged heart and an inevitable succession of prison stays that destroy all but the fiercest emotional bonds.
Been there, done that? Sort of. While “Goodfellas” was heavily mob inspired, “Blow” is a kitschy valentine to the drug-hip days of yore. The hair, the clothes and the attitudes of the 60s, 70s, and 80s are capricious and entertaining. A crazy, uneven pastiche of film stock and photo style keep the energy flowing, as does the manic, geographical traversing between California, Mexico, Miami and Colombia. The supporting characters are too much of a good thing – stereotyped to the point of asininity. A bored, strung-out wife who needs to spread her wings (Penelope Cruz), two-faced South American drug lords with ominous monikers, and a foppishly gay hairdresser (Paul Reubens) lend camp where subtlety would have sufficed. Depp has an instinctive strength, delving into his darkest recesses as the character demands. Liotta is woefully miscast as his milk-toast, nice-guy Dad who dutifully represents The Establishment. The overrated Cruz falls flat on her dramatic puss while simultaneously looking[PC1] luminous.
Incessant drug busts grow tiresome, and the climax is a paean to the cheesy melodrama. Director Ted Demme (“The Ref”), ambitiously adapting Bruce Porter’s book of the same name, has bitten off more than he can chew.