2001, R, 120 min. Directed by Ted Demme. Starring Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Franka Potente, Miguel Sandoval, Max Perlich, Cliff Curtis, Jordi Molla, Paul Reubens, Rachel Griffiths, Ethan Suplee, Ray Liotta, Denis Leary.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 6, 2001
In the Seventies, George Jung (Depp) brought cocaine back from the dead, making it the de rigueur party favor for the upscale party crowd. Blow -- adapted from Bruce Porter's book of the same name -- is Jung's life story. With Blow, Demme (director of the underrated Monument Ave., Beautiful Girls, and The Ref) has finally found a project he can sink his teeth into and shake until the blood flows. Likewise Depp, who doubtless saw a chance to redeem himself as a leading man after a pair of disastrous misfires (The Astronaut's Wife and The Ninth Gate). Both acquit themselves more than admirably here. When it's firing on all cylinders Blow crackles with a hazy, druggy energy, but I still left the theatre thinking, “That's it?” Much of that feeling came from the script (by Nick Cassavetes and David McKenna), which traces Jung's sad life back to a sad childhood, one spent idolizing his blue-collar pop (Liotta) and ditching his mom (Griffiths), and follows that sucker right on down the line. There are few surprises in this ragtag tale of illegal highs and lows -- the real Jung is in the pen until 2014, and the arc of his life is nothing if not predictable once the drugs arrive. That Demme and Depp manage to make it as gripping as they do is certainly a mark of their faith in and commitment to the project. Depp, sporting a leonine coif and an ever-changing series of groovy shades, makes the most of his role, from his initial flight from suburbia as a teen to the surf 'n' turf beachscapes of sunny Southern California to his final estrangement from his family. On the way, he hooks up with his first love Barbara (Franka Potente), an airline stewardess who is soon working as his drug mule; Reuben's flamboyantly gay hair-salon owner-cum-dealer-to-the-stars, Derek Foreal; and eventual partner in crime Diego Delgado (Molla), the man who finally introduces Jung to the infamous Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar (a tightly wound Curtis), eventually initiating America's lasting love affair with the sniffles. Like anyone with bales of unlaundered cash lying about, Jung comes to attention of the FBI and lands in jail, but not before he falls for and marries Colombian passion bomb Mirtha (Cruz). I may be one of the last male holdouts to join the Cruz-Rules camp, but her tour de force performance here sucks you right in. Her character is a spoiled, greedy figure every bit as tragic as her husband, and Demme wisely parallels Jung's conflicted respect for the two (very similar) women in his life, his mother and his Mirtha. As splendid as Depp and the rest of the cast is (cult fave Perlich of Drugstore Cowboy fame makes a welcome appearance as one of Jung's early cronies), Blow leaves you wanting more. It's the very obviousness of Jung's true-life adventures -- boy goes up, boy goes down -- that threatens to scuttle the proceedings. By now, the fortunes of the rich and illegal are so well known that all but the vaguest surprises have been permanently leeched from their film versions. It's not Jung's fault, or even Demme's -- we've just been to this party before and we know how it ends, again and again and again.