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Money for Nothing: Johnny Depp and Paul Reubens get rich quick in the cocaine trade.

Citizen Cocaine

'Blow' turns a drug runner into a GoodFella

By Jim Aquino

IF JOHNNY DEPP'S performance as American cocaine smuggler George Jung in director Ted Demme's ambitious Blow were "completely shorn of movie-star vanity," as Movieline's Stephen Farber has said, Depp wouldn't have played Jung as an older man in the film's later scenes. He would have stepped aside and let an older actor portray the withered, paunchy incarnation of Jung, which is the smarter way (and this was used to great effect in the otherwise lame bookending sequences of A League of Their Own).

Adapted from Bruce Porter's 1993 true-crime novel of the same name, Blow is another one of those decades-spanning epics that aren't quite up to the task of convincingly aging their stars before our very eyes. The half-assed makeup and stomach-padding techniques used to age Depp and co-stars Ray Liotta and Rachel Griffiths (both too young to be playing Jung's middle-aged, middle-class parents) are straight out of that tacky old Star Trek episode in which Kirk, Bones and Scotty are afflicted by a space virus that ages them rapidly.

The tricks detract from the realism and attention to detail that Demme shoots for in Blow, a contemplative, tragicomic attempt to do for drug smugglers what GoodFellas and Donnie Brasco did for Mafiosos, which is to take the Hollywoodized glamour out of the profession. It's that kind of glamour that attracts the twentysomething, wide-eyed Jung to drug dealing when he moves from Massachusetts to laid-back, hedonistic Manhattan Beach at the height of the free-love era to earn a fast buck and avoid ending up like his unhappy, self-pitying plumber father (Liotta) and his status-conscious, unpleasant shrew of a mother (Griffiths).

Blow traces this hippie Ray Kroc's rise from small-time SoCal weed exporter to '70s international cocaine bigwig--he's credited with introducing the then-unknown Colombian narcotic to the United States through the backing of ruthless Medellin cartel lord Pablo Escobar (Cliff Curtis). (I especially like the scene in which Jung has trouble keeping track of his earnings in a house he bought solely for the purpose of storing boxes stuffed with his millions--you don't see that in every crime epic.) Even when you don't buy him as a middle-aged, bloated Jung, Depp is solid in a subtle performance that's preferable to his cartoonish, tic-crazy take on the similarly drug-addled Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Blow is remarkably short for a crime epic, and for a while, Demme miraculously keeps things moving along at a fast, taut and buoyant pace. But unfortunately, on the stylistic side, he opts for trite GoodFellas-ese: frequent freeze-frames, wall-to-wall voice-over narration, lengthy tracking shots through drug-dealer parties, etc. Then midway, Blow brings on Penelope Cruz and wastes her in a one-dimensional, thankless role as Jung's shrill, bitchy Colombian wife, Mirtha. Things take a turn for the mushy in the third act, when Jung, divorced from Mirtha and left penniless, tries to patch things up with his estranged little daughter (Emma Roberts, Julia Roberts' niece). The film dissipates like blow flushed down a toilet before a big bust.

Blow (R; 124), directed by Ted Demme, written by David McKenna and Nick Cassavetes, based on the book by Bruce Porter, photographed by Ellen Kuras and starring Johnny Depp, Rachel Griffiths and Ray Liotta, opens Friday at selected theaters valleywide.

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From the April 5-11, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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