Blow
Directed by Ted Demme
Written by David McKenna, Nick Cassavetes
Starring Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz

 

Blow

"Blow" is the sort-of-true-life story of George Jung, twice a major American drug dealer - a fact that both helps and hurts the film. It helps because we can enjoy the prurient satisfactions of watching the deals, the wealth, and the betrayals that Jung experienced. It hurts because it makes for a shallow, by-the-numbers portrait of a man and his life that might have been much better, and more powerfully, rendered as fiction.

Johnny Depp, a brilliant and versatile actor, is strangely immobile as George, whom we follow for more than thirty years in the course of the film. After an introductory visit to his childhood - the only child of a well-meaning but weak father (Ray Liotta) and a bizarre shrew of a mother (Rachel Griffiths), who periodically storms out for parts unknown when she doesn't get her way - we pick up George and his friend Tuna (Ethan Suplee) as they arrive at Los Angeles's Manhattan Beach in 1968, where everyone but the surfers seems to be a stewardess, ready to smoke pot and have sex with George.

Heeding his father's advice to make money, George becomes a dealer for the local pot king (Paul Reubens in a performance worthy of a better script) and quickly gets rich, finds romance with stewardess Barbara (Franka Potente, and what a comedown from "Run Lola Run"), then loses her to some unspecified disease. (The editing here is bizarre, since we've barely made her acquaintance before she utters one line: "I don't have two years, George," which is supposed to signify that she's dying.) And then George is arrested in Chicago with 600 pounds of pot, runs, is brought back, and goes into jail for two years, where in a bad-news/good-news alternation his cellmate Diego (Jordi Molla) turns out to be a member of Pablo Escobar's Medellin cocaine cartel.

This is George's great opportunity, and to signify his new level of success as a distributor for Escobar, we find him in an apartment so full of hundred-dollar bills he looks like he's moved into the Collier brothers' home. And now he meets Mirtha (Penelope Cruz), steals her from her fiancÚ, marries her, gets even richer as she does more and more coke, they have a child, and the hammer falls again, putting George back in prison.

This is a film that, though interesting as a graphic case study, has missed the chance to probe for any kind of depth. It's predictable at every turn, and is not helped by Depp's monotone voiceover narration. If we were more involved with the people, if we felt greater empathy for George - or anyone else in the film for that matter - we might be better participants in a work filled with revelations about people and society. "The Godfather," for example, gives us exactly that insight. Instead, and in spite of music-video-style editing (and some good sound-track songs from each period), the film remains dull. It is in part redeemed by the last half-hour, in which George tries to make a connection with his daughter, but even that seems like a screenwriter's attempt to build a climax when in fact there is none (Jung is still in federal prison and will be there for at least another decade).