dir Ted Demme|
scr David McKenna, Nick Cassavettes
with Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Paul Reubens, Rachel Griffiths, Ray Liotta, Franka Potente, Jordi Molla, Max Perlich, Ethan Suplee, Miguel Sandoval, Cliff Curtis, Jesse James
release US 6.Apr.01; UK 25.May.01
NewLine 01/US 2h04
Based on the true story of George Jung, the man who single-handedly invented America's drug distribution network in the '70s and '80s, this uneven film is sporadically gripping, moving and very informative. But it never comes together into anything terribly meaningful.
After a strict, austere childhood with his straight-arrow parents (Griffiths and Liotta), George (Depp) goes completely wild as a young adult in Los Angeles in the Summer of Love, discovering the pleasures of cannibis, and even more emphatically, the public's demand for more of it. He makes his first fortune with girlfriend Barbara (Potente) by his side, only to lose everything (including Barbara, to cancer). Then in prison he hooks up with a Colombian drug dealer (Molla) who introduces him to cocaine, which he in turn introduces to the eager American consumer. This second rise is accompanied by a new Colombian wife (Cruz), with whom he fathers a daughter who changes his worldview completely.
Jung's sense of loyalty and family contrasts so hugely with the business he's in that the film struggles to find a balance. And it never tips the scales, refusing to become anything more than a well-produced yet inconsequential film bio. Performances are solid if unremarkable; Depp holds the interest, even after things go strangely squidgy; Cruz and Potente are little more than eye candy with a bit of an edge; Liotta and Griffiths age remarkably thanks to terrific acting and superior makeup; and Reubens steals the film as Jung's flamboyant yet shrewd "California connection"--easily the film's most intriguing, complex character. The real problem here is Demme, who directs without any conviction. It's efficient and slick, and he admirably shuns moralising (despite all the family values at the end), but he also avoids all insight or artistry--two things this kind of story desperately needs.