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'Blow' Overdoses on Druggie Cliches

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 6, 2001


    'Blow' Johnny Depp and Jordi Molla play drug dealers in "Blow." (L. Sebastian/New Line)
It seems so long ago when cocaine hung like white guano inside the cavernous nostrils of disco dancers and party animals across America.

But is the world really looking for "Blow," a snappy biopic about America's ultimate coke king, George Jung? How much does anyone want to go back to that era? I guess that's a matter of taste, demographics and Hollywood's usual draw: casting.

After all, this movie stars Johnny Depp, whose job here is to buff up Jung's drug-dealing history with winning ways, a compelling history and a good-looking face. And oh yeah, this is a cautionary tale.

I'll say this: "Blow," directed by Ted Demme, does have an exhilarating opening sequence – a sort of narrative coke rush that lasts about 40 minutes. It starts with the sweet, very young George Jung looking at his bankrupt parents and saying with piteous prescience: "Are we going to be poor? 'Coz I don't want ever to be poor."

Cut immediately to Manhattan Beach, where now-adolescent Jung and his pal, Tuna (Ethan Suplee), discover how easy it is to sell weed on the beach. In a matter of a few scenes, they have become local drug dealer Derek Foreal's (Paul Reubens) major salesmen.

"I really feel like I belong somewhere," says "Boston George" Jung. "I feel right."

Before too long, Jung and his new inner circle, including free-love gal Barbara (Franka Potente) and Boston pal Kevin Dulli (Max Perlich), are chartering flights to Mexico, buying the green crop in bulk, then flying to Boston and making a real killing.

It's just a matter of time before Jung, eternally framed in sunglasses, gets corporate. Now he's hopping Learjets to meet with main man Pablo Escobar – the cartel leader who fed America's coke-sniffing culture of the 1970s and 1980s, not to mention several thousand action-movie villains.

The movie's too bogged down by too many been-there-snorted-that cliches. You can feel the "rise and fall" scenario taking its predictable shape far too soon. It's a cinch, for example, that Jung's second romance, with Latin party girl Mirtha (Penelope Cruz) will escalate into tumbler-shattering, coke-crazed domestic scream-athons. And we can bank on penitentiary time for our hero.

Also, director Demme's use of Jung's relentless narration, punctuated with rock songs of the times, seems patterned too closely to "GoodFellas." And having Ray Liotta (the star of "GoodFellas") in the movie makes this parallel even more pronounced. Speaking of whom: Liotta plays Depp's father, not with performance, credibility or conviction, but makeup. It may be Dad who needs intervention for powder abuse.

You don't leave this movie hating it, by any means. Depp is, as mentioned, a likable Jung. And if any element takes us through the movie, it's him. But if screenwriters David McKenna and Nick Cassavetes (adapting the Jung biography by Bruce Porter) have attempted to make something original out of this True Story, it's not readily apparent. Which makes you wonder, just a little, what it was about "Blow" that made it a "go" project.

"Blow" (R, 107 minutes) – Contains drug use, violence, obscenity and nudity.


Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company

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