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Blow (April 24/01)

With shades of Goodfellas and Boogie Nights, Blow bursts out of the gate with it's audacious tale of cocaine-smuggler George Jung - the only problem is, Jung (as a character) can't entirely sustain a 2+ hour movie.

The infinitely talented Johnny Depp stars as Jung, while a host of familiar faces play the people in his life. Most notably, Ray Liotta completely steals every single scene he's in as Jung's blue-collar father, a man that has a tough time understanding why his son would chose this way of life. Liotta turns this relatively underwritten character and imbues him with so much life and pathos that you really can't help but feel sorry for the guy. He just wants his son to be happy and if this is what it takes, then so be it. Come Oscar time, if Liotta is snubbed...well, the other five nominees really have their work cut out for them.

Other actors in the film are just as good, perhaps with the exception of current It girl Penelope Cruz. She's not bad, really, just wasted. It's an underwritten part and since she doesn't have an iota the talent that Liotta does, she just comes off looking bad. Her character is initially seen as an exotic beauty from Cuba but eventually we find that she's just into Jung for his money and winds up an angry cokehead. An angry cokehead can always be counted on to ruin your day.

The biggest problem with Blow is that Jung is such a complete moron. This is a guy that gets arrested, goes to prison for a while, presumably gets gang-raped in the shower, is finally released, and then goes right back to selling drugs! He must wind up in and out of prison three times throughout the movie (at the very least; I lost count after the first hour). Depp is fine in the role (has he ever given a bad performance?), but the character just isn't intriguing, unless you want to see a complete idiot become really, really rich and then lose it all (and wear some bad '80s clothes in the process).

Kudos must go to director Ted Demme, though, for attempting to liven up the proceedings with a Scorsese-esque flair. Oddly enough, after about half of the movie, Demme seemingly forgets about the kinetic, split-screen visual pyrotechnics and Blow becomes just another straight tale of the American dream gone wrong. That's when Blow loses steam. Initially, the lackluster story can be forgiven because of Demme's relentlessly ADD-ish approach to his material. He never allows the story to become stale simply due to his over-the-top directorial tactics. But as he settles down, so does the movie.

Blow is not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination. It's got one of Ray Liotta's best performances and contains a number of exciting sequences. But looked at as a whole, the central character of George Jung just doesn't seem worthy to be the center of attention.

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