I discovered a bunch of movie reviews on my hard disk that I wrote for UPI in 2001 that don't appear anywhere on the Internet. I can't say that there unavailability has been any great loss for the intellectual life of humanity, but, in the interest of completeness, I guess I'll try posting some of them from time to time here.
April 2, 2001
Johnny Depp doesn't look like a typical
Hollywoodleading man. He has instead the gaunt, high-cheekboned face of a classic rock star, such as Steven Tyler of Aerosmith or Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones.
In fact, Depp moved to
originally to try for a recording contract, but a terrific gift for acting launched him on a different career. For the next decade and a half, though, he lived the rock star lifestyle. The gossip columns were full of his arrests and romantic bust-ups. Hollywood
Since his French pop star girlfriend presented him with a daughter two years ago, however, Depp has repeatedly proclaimed that his baby has finally given him a reason to live. (Memo to Mr. Depp: If you love your daughter as much as you say you do, you might consider marrying her mom.)
It's easy to guess why Depp chose to play George Jung in "Blow," the quasi-true story of a small town
kid who pioneered the aerial smuggling of marijuana in the late Sixties and of cocaine in the late Seventies. As a middleman for the Medellin Cartel, Jung made, literally, a boatload of money. One of "Blow's" funnier scenes shows him and his Colombian partner trying to find an empty spot in their yacht where can they cram yet another brown paper bag full of cash. Massachusetts
Not surprisingly, Jung went on to blow not only his money, his health, and his freedom (he's locked away until 2015), but also the love of his daughter. Making this movie no doubt served as a useful reminder to Depp of the potential price of going back to his old ways.
"Blow" is a well-made, entertaining comedy-drama, although not as memorable as two earlier cocaine wholesaler epics, "Goodfellas" and "Scarface." At the preview, the mostly Baby Boomer audience, apparently nostalgic for their dope-smoking younger days, enjoyed the early scenes' Cheech & Chong-style humor about laughable potheads. A few sniffled over the sentimental and sad ending.
Artistically, however, "Blow" was less than an inspired choice for Depp, normally our most venturesome big star. Critics are praising Depp for portraying Jung not as a scumbag, but as a likeable guy. Of course, Jung actually was a scumbag who made about $100 million by helping to ruin countless lives.
And making characters seem appealing and easy to identify with is what movie stars do for a living. It's no stretch at all for Depp to lend some of his Seventies rock star-style glamour to a Seventies drug dealer. As the real Jung fondly recalled in an interview with PBS, "Basically, I was no different than a rock star or a movie star. I was a coke star."
In contrast, in 1994's "Ed Wood," Depp played the most incompetent movie director ever, somehow making lovable and fascinating an El Dorko of titanic proportions. Now, that was acting.
Further, the script rejiggered Jung's life story to make him seem more sympathetic. We see an on-the-wagon Jung nobly saving his Colombian guests and his coke fiend wife (played by Spanish spitfire Penelope Cruz) by telling cops that the pound of cocaine they found in his house was for his "personal use only." We don't hear about how the real Jung ratted on his ex-partner to save himself from the slammer.
"Blow" also portrays Jung as a nonviolent type, who flashes a gun but once, and that turns out to be unloaded. Yeah, right. Outlaws who can't call on the police to protect their boatloads of cash must carry guns. Otherwise, they get dead fast.
Now that "Traffic" is inspiring calls for decriminalizing drugs, Americans need to understand that for the government to merely take a hands-off approach toward drug dealing would do little to cut down on the drug trade's pervasive violence. To remove the need for the private armies, the police would have to take over their job of protecting cocaine dealers. Somehow, I doubt we are ready to do that.
As the recent dot.com bubble showed, Americans are infatuated with starting their own businesses. Yet, for some reason,
doesn't cater to that interest by making movies about entrepreneurs, unless they are gangsters like Jung. Hollywood
Surprisingly, the movie doesn't deliver the pleasure of watching a capable businessman do a hard job well. Instead, "Blow" portrays the early days of the international drug business as a bonanza where even someone as amateurish as Jung could prosper.
When trying to bring in 110 pounds of Colombian cocaine in false-bottomed suitcases, Jung shows up at the U.S. Customs desk with shoulder-length hair, looking like he shaved in the dark, and decked out in a leisure suit that would have been a little too obvious even for a drug dealer on "Starsky & Hutch."
Later, Jung deposits all his loot in a Panamanian bank owned by dictator Manuel Noriega, only to find out when he tries to withdraw it, that Senor Noriega was not the trustworthiest of bankers.
The movie claims that Jung's big competitive advantage was that he knew the identity of the top cocaine retailer in
, who is played by Paul Reubens. It's a little hard to be impressed with an industry where the Mr. Big is the former Pee-Wee Herman. America
In this, "Blow" resembles "Boogie Nights," which depicted people in the porn business as so cerebrally-challenged that Burt Reynolds could credibly portray its visionary genius.
Yet, the obtuseness of most of the characters makes "Blow" more realistic than the typical
Hollywoodmovie about supposed criminal masterminds. Generally, people become crooks only if they have a hard time anticipating the dire consequences of their career choice. For example, an IQ measured at a slightly above average 110 made John Gotti, the "Teflon Don," a mental giant among mobsters.
At the end, Jung reflects, "My ambition far exceeded my talent." "Blow" has the opposite problem. It unleashes a lot of talent upon an unworthy subject.
"Blow" is rated "R" for glamorizing drugs and for bad language. It's rather mild in the sex and violence departments.