I’ve never heard of George Jung, but at one time he was responsible for 85% of the cocaine that dusted through the West Coast during the late 70’s and early 80’s. As a personal distributor of the Columbian cocaine cartel, Jung made more than $60 million. He lived like a king, throwing extravagant parties and buying his Columbian trophy wife Mirtha anything she wanted.

blowJung’s quick ride to the top is the basis of the new film “Blow,” a dry and overlong cautionary tale on the evils of drug dealing. It’s an unconvincing argument, weighted down by cliched dialogue and see-through acting. “Blow” ultimately feels like a high school public service announcement. Every action and reaction is projected to the back row. The film was obviously written for a demographic that was too young to really remember what it was like.

So instead they get this cartoonish drama that really has nothing to say, yet rambles on for over two hours. Jung’s actions made a big impact on America, but the script’s tunnel vision never goes beyond his living room. Seldom do scriptwriters David McKenna and Nick Cassavettes explore the devastation caused by Jung and his associates.

They feel content to stay close to Jung, who turns out to be such a loser you wonder why anyone made the fuss. He’s as useless as a foreskin after a Brisk. His sole talent is smuggling drugs from, but he’s so stupid he can’t stay out of prison. He’s your run-of-the-mill “Miami Vice” drug dealer, showing off his wealth with little regard to how others perceive him.

There are no sympathetic characters in director Ted Demme’s film, which wouldn’t be a problem if this were film noir. It’s not. It’s melodrama at its most convenient, and with no one too root for, all that is left is the films ability to entertain or inform. It does neither. It’s way too long, forcing you to sit through the same thing over and over again.

The cast isn’t much help. Johnny Depp displays little emotion as Jung, who ages from a young boy to a fifty year old man over the course of the film. Depp accomplishes this by wearing various fright wigs and old-age make-up that is so junior high school. Most of the time he just sits there, pretending to be stoned.

Not once does Depp allow us inside of Jung. We never really know who this man is, and why he does what he does. He says it’s because he’s good at it, but why isn’t he good at anything else? The film raises more questions than it answers, and that’s frustrating. If we can’t root for Jung, at least let us understand him. The writers lack the skill to make any of this matter. When Jung’s first fiancee gets cancer and dies, it should be heartbreaking. It’s not. It’s just another plot point to be dealt with. The film requires more depth and thought than the filmmakers can deliver.

Director Demme abandons his actors every chance he gets. There’s no subtlety or nuance in any of the performances. For “Blow” to have any impact after last year’s “Traffic,” it needs someone like Paul Thomas Anderson (“Boogie Nights”) behind the camera. Someone who isn’t afraid to open the film up and show us the world that Jung inhabits, not just the world inside his house.

It’s amazing how weak the female performances are, considering that Demme was the director of “Beautiful Girls.” Penelope Cruz delivers a one-note performance as Mirtha, Jung’s wife and mother of his daughter. She’s the perpetual party girl who sees no problem snorting coke while pregnant. The character is poorly written and directed, while Cruz does nothing to rise above the material.

It’s hard to watch Rachel Griffiths go through the motions as Jung’s detached mother. Her make- up is just as embarrassing as the dialogue she’s forced to recite. Ray Liotta also suffers through bad make-up to play Jung’s understanding father. It’s not a bad performance, but he sure looks bad.

Jung’s cohorts in crime include Paul Reubens as gay hairdresser with a pot connection, and handsome Jordi Molla as his prison cell mate who has the cocaine connection. Molla’s final moments, strung out on coke, are so over the top you wonder if the set had a roof.

“Blow” looks authentic, and a lot of attention has been paid to detail. The costumes, sets and automobiles are all vintage, as is the musical soundtrack. It’s a nostalgic playground, the perfect place for a riveting story on the cocaine connection of the late 1970s. Unfortunately, “Blow” isn’t that film.


Cautionary cocaine tale nothing to sniff at


Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Franka Potente, Paul Reubens, Ray Liotta, Rachel Griffiths, Jordi Molla, Max Perlich. Directed by Ted Demme. Rated R. 121 Minutes.


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