True story of drug kingpin George Jung, who almost single-handedly turned America onto cocaine when he became the first U.S. distributor for the notorious Medellin cartel.
You may not have heard of George Jung before this, but you quickly learn that whoever was doing coke in the '70s and '80s (and according to this movie, who wasn't) was probably sniffing his stuff. This biopic tracks Jung's travails from his troubled, poor boyhood to his pot-dealing days in California to his life as a millionaire cocaine trafficker for the Colombian Medellin cartel. The party has to end sometime, and for Jung it does when he's repeatedly busted, eventually loses his family and ultimately destroys his life.
Johnny Depp might just get an Oscar nod next year for his performance as a regular guy who turns into the foremost drug distributor in U.S. history. But in all honesty, he's startlingly one-note (couldn't he change his facial expression just once? A millionaire drug dealer must have had fun sometime). Ray Liotta and Rachel Griffiths are terribly miscast as his parents (which one is Depp supposed to take after?), although Liotta is quite good as Jung's heartbroken but accepting father. Penélope Cruz goes overboard as Jung's hateful wife and clunks her way through her lines; her bad wigs make it even worse. Now, an open plea to casting directors everywhere: Please put Paul Reubens in your next movie. Without overdoing it, he's great as a femme hairdresser who becomes the first to introduce Jung to his life of crime.
After the schmaltzy beginning showing Jung's childhood, the movie cruises into high gear using nifty camerawork and freeze-frames to convey his thrilling rise to trafficking stardom. Then, a little over the halfway point, the film loses a lot of steam and starts exuding sap. Maybe it's the subject matter, maybe it's the direction, but the tear-jerking last half hour doesn't support its snappy, carefree start. Depp looks as intense celebrating his birthday as he does when his family leaves him; moreover, Jung seems to have had no moral concern for his actions (except where it affected him). So while you do feel sorry for the guy, you aren't as sorry as the film implies you should be. The movie tugs unrelentingly at the heartstrings, the coup de grace a full-screen mug shot of the wretched real-life inmate Jung.
Blow's first hour or so is breezy fun, but by the end you're left with a big bag of wind.