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A Dealer's Decline

Blow stays between the lines

Before the lost souls in Boogie Nights could snort their way into tweaked-out fits of ranting and raving, and before Scarface had a chance at landing himself in front of that insanely huge pile of coke, there was an innocent Boston boy named George Jung. Young George watched his hard-working father (Ray Liotta) slave away, only to find himself continually broke or out of work, or both. George's mom (Rachel Griffiths) never worked, but she craved the nice material possessions that her devoted husband couldn't afford, so she left them, and every time she came back, George watched his dad take her, unconditionally, into his arms again. So at a young age, George Jung decided that he'd never be like his parents--broke, miserable, and full of regret.
Cut to a very Oliver Stone-ish southern California beach scene circa the 1960s, where a grown-up George (Johnny Depp in a blonde surfer boy wig) and his friend Tuna (Ethan Suplee) arrive on the scene, start selling pot, get all the girls and start an amateur dealing biz. It doesn't take long for George's entrepreneurial skills to emerge, and with the help of his stewardess (it wasn't so PC in those days) girlfriend Barbara (Run, Lola Run's Franka Potente) and a well-connected, flamboyant hairdresser (Paul Reubens, proving that Pee Wee Herman wasn't just a fluke) George finds himself rolling in dough, living it up in Mexico in an idyllic house with his woman and his closest friends, smoking joints, and escaping the dreaded fate of his parents. Along the way he marries a coke-addled Columbian beauty (Penelope Cruz, who proves yet again that she's got that rare combo of beauty AND amazing talent). After a stint in jail, George winds up dealing coke for Pablo Escobar, almost single-handedly introducing blow to the disco era... or introducing the disco era to blow.
The true story (George Jung is still serving time for dealing coke) takes the inevitable Scarface / Boogie Nights plunge, showing us that the American Dream is a dangerous pursuit that follows a steep rise to glory and an even steeper crash into despair. Rags-to-riches-to-morally cleansed-rags. With the right writing and direction, the story might not appear so hackneyed, but director Ted Demme (The Ref, Beautiful Girls) basically steals any style this movie has from, yes, Scarface and Boogie Nights (he even used Boogie Nights' costume designer). His hip camera work and recreation of American classics like the high heels and bloody noses of the 70's and the mullets and track suits of the 80's hardly come across as original. Screenwriters David McKenna and Nick Cassavetes, who's inherited his dad's penchant for parent-child melodrama) do a fair job--only occasionally slipping into banal lines like "I thought you said you couldn't live without your heart" spoken by George's young daughter after he tells her she's his heart. But that's not to say that Demme and company have failed to create an entertaining film. Blow is never dull, just slightly stale.


Rated R
1 hour 59 minutes

Johnny Depp
Penelope Cruz
Jordi Molla
Ray Liotta
Rachel Griffiths