Published Apr 01, 2001In terms of the "small timer makes big on excess, then learns a tough lesson and sells his story from jail" style tales, the words "Based on a true story" are not just common, they're practically required for a narrative that tries to condense the career of criminals by signposts both musical and follicle. "Blow" clings to this "truth" in its trip through early 70s California pot culture through Colombian coke cartels on into the go-go 80s and resting with moral righteousness with its protagonist sharing jail cells with junk bond traders and other symbols of greed and stupidity.
But along the way "Blow" really has nothing to say behind its Bay City Rollers hairstyles (Johnny Depp looks particularly ridiculous, considering his co-star Paul Reubens yes, Peewee Herman is supposed to be a hairdresser) and "Boogie Nights" soundtrack. But unlike P.T. Anderson, who saw "Goodfellas" and realised it was a window into important, interesting issues (family, trust, loyalty, greed, money, morality) and grafted his own model onto it in "Nights" and "Magnolia," "Blow" has no such awareness, and nothing to add. It's happy to simply skim through its cultural signifiers, slapping the de rigeur voiceover onto thin spots in the plot, and desperately hoping that its scope will lend it the weight that its details don't support.
Johnny Depp plays George Jung, a lower class teenager who hits the beaches of California with a huge bag of weed, but quickly corners the emerging coke market with his girlfriend ("Run Lola Run's" Franka Potente) and a circle of good friends. But when his ambitions lead him into the lion's den of coke czar Pablo Escobar, loyalties turn on business, and of course everything goes to hell eventually. But not before Depp's George steals a Brazilian beauty (current It girl Penelope Cruz), betrays some associates, gets busted a couple of times, and returns home to his disappointed parents.
Repeatedly, "Blow" aspires to meaning beyond its surface, but it does so hamhandedly and without depth. George's relationship with his parents, for example, is a constant theme, but with little to add to the film, it simply distracts from the action. Not to mention the casting is questionable: Ray Liotta, as Depp's father, is an obvious, if unintentional nod to "Goodfellas," but Rachel Griffiths ("Hilary and Jackie") as Depp's disapproving mother is simply ridiculous. She does a reasonable job with the role, but the fact that she is, in fact, five years younger than Depp is a hurdle she just can't overcome on the believability factor.
It's symptomatic of all of "Blow." While it continues to hide behind the "true story" angle, it wouldn't know a true moment if it flew up its nose.