Blow Movie Review

In the famed cocaine drama Scarface, I remember a lot of gun battles and bowl after bowl of cocaine spilled on the table. I do not remember heartfelt talks with dad, a cancer-stricken girlfriend, and a child custody battle.

Yet such is the world of Blow, the most wildly anticipated drug thriller since, well, last year's Traffic. Welcome to the "based on a true story" tale of George Jung (the inimitable Johnny Depp), just a suburban boy from New England who tires of his conservative life and heads for -- where else -- L.A. Here (in the 1960s, natch), Jung hooks up with the local hair stylist/drug dealer and starts his own small pot distributorship. Soon enough he's running drugs back to Boston with the help of his friends and flight attendant girlfriend (Run Lola Run's Franka Potente). But just as he's made a name for himself, he gets busted and lands in prison.

He soon gets out, so we start again with cocaine, and with the aid of his cellmate Diego (Jordi Mollà), he's flying to Colombia to make his pickups. Cocaine turns out to be much more lucrative, and Jung and his distributors get a lock on the U.S. market. Millions are amassed, and eventually they are lost.

Serve more prison time, rinse and repeat.

The crowds of rowdies who've seen the glittering trailer and think Blow is a celebration of their lifestyle are in for a shock. Blow celebrates the tragic life of George Jung, not the glamorous one. Sure, there are some real thrills as Jung gets his little drug trafficking business together, but by and large the film plays to the sap. After opening on the wrong note (George playing as a young boy), it finally finds its pace, only to lose it again for the last half of the two hour running time.

Even the drama isn't done right. Most of the movie is just too campy, with performances from Paul Reubens and Bobcat Goldthwait drawing too much attention. But I will admit that Reubens is at least a lot of fun to watch. By far the worst actor here is Penelope Cruz -- hardly a gifted actress to begin with -- who is forced to carry the last third of the movie as Jung's strung-out, Colombian wife with little but silly costumes and hair dye to help her out. Her screeching wail makes one long for the subtlety of Sharon Stone in Casino.

Ultimately, as with virtually all drug movies, Blow is a story of treachery and betrayal. It boils down to a GoodFellas clone without as much sweat (and with Ethan Suplee playing the tubby guy instead of Joe Pesci). They've even trotted out Ray Liotta, and he might as well be playing Henry Hill's father instead of George Jung's.

Characters blow in and out of the movie, the setting swings from country to country, from year to year, never with much direction. It feels endless, and ultimately it becomes less an adventure story and instead a whiny melodrama.

Director Ted Demme -- the less prolific nephew of Jonathan Demme -- tries to infuse a lot of glam into what ends up being a rather pedestrian tale. Parts of it are a lot of fun and parts are surprising, but too much of it asks us to sympathize for poor George Jung, who's made one too many mistakes in life. Perhaps the worst moment in the picture comes right as the credits roll and tell us that the real Jung won't be out of prison until 2015. Demme inserts a picture of the man (the real guy, not Johnny Depp) as he looks today -- withered, beaten, and with the same ridiculous haircut he's always had.

I guess it worked. I really do feel sorry for the guy.

Blow gets New Line's ultra-snazzy infinifilm treatment with its DVD release (see Thirteen Days for more detail), but unfortunately the movie doesn't merit the upgrade. Jammed full of deleted scenes, outtakes, interviews, and historical context, none of this serves to improve the viewing experience, as it does with Thirteen Days. Sorry guys, you either have it or you don't.

Blowing sweet nothings.


Blow Rating

" Weak "

Rating: R, 2001


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