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‘Don Juan DeMarco’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 07, 1995


Jeremy Leven
Johnny Depp;
Marlon Brando;
Faye Dunaway;
Rachel Ticotin;
Bob Dishy;
Geraldine Pailhas
nudity and sexual situations

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AFTER THE box office success of "Interview With the Vampire," we may be in for a slew of movies in which some hunk on a good-hair-day weaves a long-winded yarn about how he dueled with formidable opponents, yearned for a classic damsel and procured excellent clothing along the way.

"Don Juan DeMarco," starring Johnny Depp, Marlon Brando and Faye Dunaway, stands appealingly at the front of this potential queue of dude-from-the-past flicks. The main appeal comes from Depp: As the world's most famous lover—or some reincarnation of the 17th-century stud—he's warm, amusing and thoroughly believable.

Less than two weeks before his retirement, psychiatrist Brando (apparently in training for "The Brian Dennehy Story") is dispatched to talk Depp down from the top of a high billboard. The masked young gentleman, who declares himself to be the great, amorous Don Juan, is perched to take a final leap for the one woman who got away. Replicating Depp's Castilian accent, Brando convinces Depp that he's nobleman Don Octavio de Flores.

An instant alliance is born. Depp willingly surrenders to Brando, who promptly takes him to a mental health institution for processing. Brando persuades his boss to let him evaluate and diagnose the patient during his final 10 days of employment and, posing as the nobleman, he listens to Depp's life story.

"No woman has ever left my arms unsatisfied," Depp declares. This grandiosity, thanks to Depp's innocently honest manner, seems not only sweet but accurate. Without a trace of deception or self-consciousness, Depp recounts everything: from his first affair with a married woman in Mexico (leading to a series of honor-bound duels) to his servitude to a sultan.

The latter position, by the way, involved sharing quarters with the ruler's 1,500-strong harem, where Depp earned most of his stripes. But as Depp points out, despite all the conquests, he's in love with only one—the great Dona Ana (played with calendar-girl sultriness by Geraldine Pailhas).

"Don Juan DeMarco" is an extended series of flashbacks, in which we go back in time to chapters of Depp's life, then return to the present—where Brando has to resist his peers' entreaties to drug his seemingly delusional patient, and where Depp's influence begins to affect everyone. Brando himself feels the amorous bug and attempts to reheat his lukewarm marriage to Dunaway.

The movie, written and directed by Jeremy Leven, may not be one for the ages, but it's a pleasant, involving experience that intermixes fairy-tale romance with modern, deadpan comedy. "Why do you think Dr. Mickler is Don Octavio de Flores?" a bewildered psychologist—referring to Brando—asks Depp.

"Why do you think Don Octavio de Flores is Dr. Mickler?" asks an even more bewildered Depp.

It's still strange to watch Brando playing second fiddle, even after two decades of throwaway cameos and supporting roles. Yet he seems unusually relaxed here, as opposed to disdainfully above it all. There's a particularly telling moment when he gazes sentimentally at an old photograph of himself. The realness of the image—taken in the 1950s—grabs you. In the photo, Brando is handsome, cocky and fresh from winning the Oscar for "On the Waterfront," and he's grinning that face-splitting Brando beam, as he poses next to his real father.

The point is clear and unambiguous: Brando used to be the World's Greatest Lover, but what goes around, comes around. Nowadays, Brando (who numbers Marilyn Monroe among his paramours in his recent tell-all) is perfectly content to let Depp swish the young man's sword around for a change.

DON JUAN DeMARCO (PG-13) — Contains nudity and sexual situations.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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