If “Blow” were a drug it would give you a pretty satisfying high. It would start off great. You’d be laughing a lot as you become convinced that you could do anything. Then you’d suddenly hit a dark space where your mind is going in circles, everything seems too familiar and yet you feel powerless to escape it. After it wears off you’d think it was pretty fun and glamorous and yet resolve not to do it again.
Such is the journey of “Blow,” the latest film that tries to dissect the drug crisis in epic scope as an examination of America itself. Director Ted Demme (“Beautiful Girls”) turns his camera to the oft-told tale of the rise and fall of the American Dream, portrayed through the trials of one drug dealer who gets in too deep. With many convincing moments of grandeur, euphoria and tragedy, Demme creates an engrossing and fun environment that makes you want to transport yourself back to the days when disco was king. Aided by a solid script, impressive performances and great costume and set designs, Demme crafts a very watchable and entertaining film for the young hepcat.
And yet it is impossible to watch “Blow” without sensing countless moments of dŽjˆ vu about “Boogie Nights” and “Scarface.” Far less violent and more sentimental then these two celebrated underworld chronicles of a rags-to-riches story, in the end not a whole lot separates Johnny Depp’s character from Mark Wahlberg’s or Al Pacino’s. Depp’s George Jung experiences the same hedonistic bliss of money, women and very pure blow as Dirk Diggler and Tony Montana, only to ride the same roller coaster of depravity and illusion.
One thing is clear: Demme enjoyed himself making this film. His “don’t you wish you were there?” glamorization of the ’60s is most prevalent in the early part of the film. Possessed by “California Dreamin’,” baby-faced George Jung leaves his father (a great Ray Liotta) and their small New England town for Manhattan Beach. The place is the idyllic California that we all imagine existed somewhere in the past: a slice of heaven with cheap beachside apartments, beautiful women, and of course, lots of kind bud. Resolved not to work for a living, he falls in with a flamboyant local dealer Derek Foreal (Paul Reubens aka Pee-Wee Herman) and soon becomes the bud distributor for Manhattan Beach.
Expanding his operations to the East Coast, Jung gets caught and is sent to jail, where he meets a Colombian who hooks him up with the cocaine trade and Pablo Escobar. Connected to El Jefe himself, Jung steals the beautiful wife of an adversary (Penelope Cruz) and becomes rich beyond his wildest dreams before the underbelly of the trade catches up with him.
From start to finish Depp is the cool ’70s guy personified. He’s stylish, soft-spoken and faultlessly confident but still retains a dopey-eyed innocence throughout the whole film that makes him so much more sympathetic than the others. Though Jung is a criminal, Demme never wants him to appear that way to us, and the audience ends up rooting for him throughout the film. One could deduce from “Blow” that Demme is glamorizing the lifestyle of drug dealing – that if it weren’t for those pesky cops, Jung could still be with his family and living it up and this wouldn’t do anything to harm us.
Overall, “Blow” is a very fun film to watch until the rather sad ending (of course, Hollywood has to say that drugs are bad at some point). It may not be recorded as the apex of original filmmaking, but “Blow” still carries an entertaining and engrossing weight all its own.