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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Blow

Starring: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz
Director: Ted Demme
Rated: R
RunTime: 124 Minutes
Release Date: April 2001
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Franka Potente, Paul Reubens, Ray Liotta, Noah Emmerich, Denis Leary, Lola Glaudini, Max Perlich, Ashley Edner

Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

In stark contrast to the hard-hitting TRAFFIC, which is constantly on message, Ted Demme's BLOW takes an entertaining, soap opera approach to the world of drug trafficking.

Based on the true story of drug trafficker George Jung, the movie goes from his childhood to his 60 year incarceration in prison. In a stretch, Johnny Depp plays George, who has said in interviews that he was ugly but that with his money and drugs, he could easily attract all of the beautiful women he wanted. Not until the end when he is buried in prosthetics does Depp look anything other than terrific. As always, his acting is dead-on even if he has trouble looking anything other than great. George confesses that "my ambitions far exceeded my talents," something that clearly doesn't apply to Depp.

Growing up in Massachusetts, George's childhood is shaped by his cold-hearted mother (Rachel Griffiths), who always complains about his father (Ray Liotta) not making enough money. Even though he works long hours, seven days a week, his father goes bankrupt. "Money isn't real, George," his father tells him after he loses it all. "It doesn't matter. It seems like it does, but it doesn't." George, on the other hand, gets a completely different message than the one intended and vows never to be poor again, no matter what it takes.

When George grows up, he leaves for the beaches of sunny California, where everyone is stoned and all of the bikini-clad women seem to be stewardesses. He takes up with one, Barbara (Franka Potente, RUN LOLA RUN), whom he soon begins to use as a mule, carrying drugs from California to the colleges on the east coast. A decidedly funny Paul Reubens (a.k.a. Pee Wee Herman) chews up the scenery as Derek Foreal, George's local drug source and a flamboyant, gay hairdresser. When George moves up to the major leagues of the drug trade, he employees Derek as his west coast distributor. "It's going to take longer to count the money than it did to sell it [the drugs]," Derek remarks after their first really big deal.

Once busted for dealing hundreds of pounds of pot, George is sentenced to a couple of years at Danbury prison, where he learns more sophisticated criminal skills. As he puts it, "I went in with a Bachelors of Marijuana and went out with a Doctorate in Cocaine." As George moves up the drug food chain and the decades change, the clothes, which are a lot of fun, keep changing with the times.

Being in at the early stage of such a hugely lucrative endeavor, George becomes so rich that he literally runs out of room to store his greenbacks. At one point, he tells us in narration, he controlled the majority of all of the cocaine in the United States.

Prominently and beautifully featured on the film's poster, Penélope Cruz (WOMAN ON TOP) doesn't show up until well into the second half. Playing an obnoxious woman who quickly becomes George's loud-mouthed cokehead of wife, she looks wonderful while trying to act and look bad. Cruz is just constitutionally incapable of looking bad. She does convincingly play a real bitch.

Although it is an easy movie to enjoy, it isn't especially challenging or insightful. The best part is the father-daughter relationship between George and Kristina (Emma Roberts), whom he wants desperately to be with. Although it receives only a modest amount of screen time, it is their scenes together that most give humanity to Depp's characterization of George and to the movie itself.

BLOW runs a little too long at 2:02. It is rated R for pervasive drug content and language, some violence and sexuality and would be acceptable for high school seniors and older.

Copyright © 2001 Steve Rhodes

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