"Blow" is based on the real life experiences of George Jung, once one of
the most successful illegal drug importers on the planet. Back in the
late '60s and early '70s, the psychedelic youth brigade of America
whiled away their free time peacefully with assorted hallucinogens and
all the marijuana they could get their hands on. Then George entered the
marketplace with incredible quantities of cocaine and the scene turned
In other words, George Jung was the kid who spoiled it for the rest of
Jung claims responsibility for bringing in at least 85 percent of the
cocaine that entered the United States during the late 1970s. Hmmmmm. It
may be true, but then again, former vice-president Al Gore claims that
the lead characters in "Love Story" were based on him and his wife,
Tipper. And for what it's worth, I single-handedly popularized salt and
vinegar potato chips in the Midwest.
Regardless, Jung is generally acknowledged as the key American behind
the cocaine tsunami. After reading Brian Porter's decades-spanning
rags-to-riches-to-rags biography about the Uber-dealer, director Ted
Demme ("Monument Avenue") decided this was a story that must be
presented on the big screen. Had "Scarface," "Goodfellas" and "Boogie
Nights" never been made, he might have been right. But in the wake of
those movies, "Blow" is unable to overcome a "been there, done that"
feel. To be fair, there are perks to be had. Johnny Depp contributes a
fine performance in the lead role, a few of the supporting players are
decent and Demme offers some nice stylistic touches. Still, the
production comes off as little more than a variation of a well-worn
The story begins in George's 1950s childhood home in Massachusetts. His
father Fred (Ray Liotta) is a plumber with a strong work ethic and an
even stronger love of his boy, while his shrewish mother Ermine (Rachel
Griffiths) seems more concerned with her standing in the neighborhood
than with the well being of her family.
In 1968, George and his best friend Tuna (Ethan Suplee) move to a
California beach town, where they discover the joys of girls and ganja.
When their cash runs short, the boys decide that - get ready for this -
they could make money by (a drum roll, please) selling marijuana! The
film presents this as if it was the first time anyone came up with such
George's stewardess girlfriend Barbara (Franka Potente from "Run Lola
Run") hooks him up with Derek (Paul Reubens), a sly hairdresser who
enjoys freaking out newcomers with his effeminate mannerisms. Derek
fronts the boys a bag of weed and, in short order, they establish a
lively business with the college crowd back in Boston, manageable
because of Barbara's ability to serve as courier.
Cut to 1970, where George and Barbara live large while operating out of
Acapulco, until George gets popped in Chicago with over 600 pounds of
the herb. He ends up serving time with Colombian Diego Delgado (Jordi
Molla), who hooks him up with the Medellin drug cartel. Bada bing, bada
boom, George becomes THE Colombian cocaine pipeline to the States.
Needless to say, there are complicating factors. Visits with the parents
are dicey, as Mom has a nasty habit of calling the cops on her son.
George creates ill will by wooing and eventually marrying Mirtha
(Penelope Cruz), the squeeze of a Medellin big wheel. Finally, George's
friends in the cartel are mighty interested in learning the name of his
main connection on the West Coast.
While the film has a number of powerful scenes, the story arc is just as
you would expect and, when the inevitable downfall begins, everything
drags. Demmes tries to jazz things up by using camera gimmicks common to
each decade of the story (faux home movies for the '50s, rainbow
zippiness for the '60s, washed out colors and lots of zooms for the
'70s, yadda, yadda, yadda). The visuals are moderately engaging, but not
enough to overcome the overwhelming sense of déjà vu.
The same goes with the performances. Depp is very good and Liotta
provides welcome support as the loving, nonjudgmental papa.
Unfortunately, to denote the passage of time, both men must wear fake
bellies that are, ahem, a bit less than convincing. Paul Reubens also
does solid work, creating a sense of playful wickedness in his
supporting role. The rest of the cast is comprised of the expected
stereotypes, with Griffiths and Cruz consistently annoying as one-note
While "Blow" has a fair share of rewards, it is a decidedly minor movie.
Still, many early reviews of the film have been positively gushing. Why?
I can think of only one reason - when they saw the flick, them damn
critics were all hopped up on coke.
Copyright © 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott