The story is of a guy that wants to be respected and make a lot of money. He turns to a life of glamorous crime and gets a big house and a wife that enjoys the lifestyle yet blames her husband for getting caught. They build a life of extravagance in a world of quirky villains, merciless friends and lots of cocaine. Their lives peak and then spiral downward as their crimes catch up to them and they are forced to live out their pathetic lives on the government”s stingy dollar. The camera work is fluid, the soundtrack is perfect, and it”s Ray Liotta”s best film. The movie: “Goodfellas.”
That is a good place to start because Ted Demme”s “Blow” wants to be “Goodfellas” so bad that it”s painful. Demme makes no attempt to disguise this, and even uses Scorsesesque voice-overs and freeze-frames. It”s a good imitation of Scorsese, but an imitation none-the-less. That is this film”s major flaw that it offers nothing new, yet is packaged like as if it were revelation. It follows the standard bio-pic format (poor boy gets rich goes crazy looses everything), yet it does not flesh out many of its important characters, and other characters come and go for no apparent reason.
Johnny Depp stars in the true story of George Jung, a beach bum who decides to start selling pot with his friend Tuna (“American History X”s” Ethan Suplee). Despite knowing nothing about apparently anything, George and Tuna become the most lucrative dealers on the beach, much to the joy of their supplier, Derek Foreal (Paul Reubens, yes, that Paul Reubens). During a stint in prison, Jung”s cellmate (Jordi Molla) puts him into contact with Pablo Escobar (Cliff Curtis), who in turn introduces the protagonist (and all of America) to the world of Columbian Cocaine. Chaos ensues.
Depp is, as always, fine and brings subtle depth to the oft-ignorant Jung. As Jung ages and bloats and begins to fall apart, Depp utilizes the make-up but does not rely on it, carrying himself differently as the years supposedly pass. Liotta, who is only eight years older than Depp, plays his kind-hearted, hard-working father as a caring man who has given up on good and evil. It is a deceptively deep performance, leaving behind the crazies that Liotta has so often inhabited, and almost makes you forget his brainless performance in “Hannibal.” Almost. Rachel Griffiths (“Hillary and Jackie”), who is really five years younger than Depp, plays his mother by channeling Lorraine Bracco and a shoebox full of uppers.
While this has been touted as a comeback film for the erstwhile Pee Wee Herman, Reubens constantly over-plays his role as a gay hairdresser-cocaine dealer (remember, this is based on a true story!). It does little to erase his alter ego from the collective mind of the audience, and his presence ends up being more distracting than anything else.
Penlope Cruz is Jung”s wife, who, according to the film, was not only abusive towards him, but actually got him thrown in jail for several years. Cruz is an accomplished actress in Spain, but does not have a tremendous grasp on English, and plays her part as little more than a preening drama queen that does not stray far from the second dimension.
That being said, this is not an awful movie, and was enjoyable to an extent. The only real complaint is that one can go out and rent any number of equal and better films for three dollars, as opposed to paying close to ten for something that they have already seen.