Beneath the wigs and behind the sunglasses, Johnny Depp may be giving one hell of a performance in Blow, but it's hard to tell because the wigs nearly swallow his head and the sunglasses block his eyes (a.k.a. the window to the soul). Did the real-life George Jung, whom Depp endows with an almost Ed Wood-like innocence, even have a soul? Blow sure thinks so. Perhaps never in the history of movies has a drug dealer ' and not just any drug dealer, but the guy who sent mountains of cocaine avalanching over the American public in the '70s and '80s ' been given such a fair shake. Not that Depp's Jung doesn't pay for his sins; Blow has the drug movie's inevitable rise-and-fall arc. But director Ted Demme and scriptwriters David McKenna and Nick Cassavetes leave us with the distinct impression that, no matter what Jung did, it wasn't his fault.
We might ' might ' be able to accept that if the movie gave us a better sense of just who Jung was. Or if it weren't so lackadaisically hyper. Demme, who showed a real flair for comedy in the Eddie Murphy-Martin Lawrence vehicle Life, tries to up the ante in Blow by leaning on such movies as GoodFellas and Casino and Scarface ' crime-doesn't-pay-but-it-sure-is-fun movies in which half the fun comes from the adrenaline rush of the moviemaking itself. But Demme doesn't have the technique of a Scorsese or a De Palma, and he allows the story to wander away from him. The movie opens with a batch of cocaine making its way from paste to powder, and you start to think Demme's going to take us on a Traffic-like tour of the Colombian drug trade. No such luck.
Instead, we follow Jung's rise to the top and his slide to the bottom. As you might expect, the rise is more enjoyable. At one point, Jung's worth over $60 million and there's so much cash coming in he has to weigh it instead of count it. But before you can say "The bucks never stop here," he's been arrested, not once but several times. Of course, prison is like a form of higher education. "I went in with a bachelor's in marijuana and came out with a doctorate in cocaine," Depp says. If only we in the audience could learn something from Blow that we haven't already been taught any number of times by movies superior to this one. It's not that Depp's Jung is as pure as the driven snow. It's that Demme doesn't know how to get us high.
By the way, Paul "Pee-wee Herman" Reubens shows up as a trÃs gay hairdresser who serves as Jung's entrÃe into the Hollywood community. And though he seems to be channeling Lily Tomlin, he's often a hoot ' especially that hair! The movie's costume designer must be on crack.