Faced by an adaptation of a book subtitled How A Small-town Boy Made $100 Million With The Medellín Cocaine Cartel And Lost It All, you can safely expect the plot to follow the same coke-fuelled rise-and-fall structure as, say, GoodFellas or Boogie Nights. Fair enough, that's a given - you can't really complain about it.
But, by the same token, when you're watching such an adaptation, you can also expect it to be packed with the kind of pulse-pounding, based-on-fact episodes of drugged excess and confrontation which characterised the source material. Like when a wired George Jung hired a mercenary strike force with the intention of blitzing a rival, or when he hid behind his daughter's teddy bears clutching an M-16, awaiting a possible attack on his home by Colombian dealers.
However, neither of these episodes - nor anything else which makes Blow the book compelling reading - are present in David McKenna and Nick Cassavetes' script. What they've created is a dull and overlong tale of an unlikeable man who suffers a troubled family life, complete with - come the flaccid denoument, - touching piano music and tearful, "I love you daddy!" sentiment. We shit you not.
Yet that doesn't stop director Ted Demme from thinking he's making a film worthy of comparison with GoodFellas or Boogie Nights. His attempts to stylistically mimic Scorsese's masterpiece are so transparent, they're embarrassing. Johnny Depp's croaky voiceover intrudes for most of the movie à la Henry Hill and Demme uses freeze-frame and photo-montage without concern for whether it heightens the action or furthers the plot. He even (mis)casts Ray Liotta (who's only eight years older than Depp) as George's dad and forces Rachel Griffiths (who's five years younger) to do the worst Lorraine Bracco impression as his mom.
Truly terrible make-up doesn't help matters. Demme clearly thought he could get away with casting young actors as George's parents because he could age them as the plot swept from the '60s through to the early '90s. He did the same with Rick Baker's help, for Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence in Life, but a sprinkle of talc in Liotta's hair, some streaks of grey in Penelope Cruz's wig and a few lines under Griffiths' eyes just don't do it. As for Depp, by the '80s segment, he looks worryingly like Steve Coogan character Paul Calf, complete with eyebrow-hugging fringe, shell suit and a cushion shoved up his T-shirt.
There's just no excuse for Blow to be this lame. In adapting Bruce Porter's book, Demme, McKenna and Cassavetes should have been forced to change the title as well. To Suck.
Demme has turned a great book into a tedious biopic which trots out the usual clichés about crime not paying and drugs being bad, while alienating the audience by trying too hard to make George Jung a sympathetic character. A bitter disappointment.