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Cinema Signal: Despite piles of cliches, Depp fans will want to see it. MOBILE: |

. "Blow"

Ah, for those simpler days of the 70's when all the commercial potentials of the drug trade weren't yet realized... when "blow" was what was achieved when you pursed your lips and exhaled forcefully. And then came along a young, low-level marijuana hustler whose business vision went "out of the box" and enabled him to see a wider scope of possibilities.

That man was George Jung, here played by a really charismatic movie star, Johnny Depp, who is far better suited to this straight, serious endeavor than some of his forced comedic distortions, as in "Sleepy Hollow" or deep psychological manifestations as in Javier Bardem's "Before Night Falls".

Based on this real person's real life, director Ted Demme ("The Ref", 1994) and screenwriter David McKenna, using the book by Bruce Porter, take us through the man's life and career as he becomes the first to introduce cocaine to Hollywood's beautiful and rich, making himself ultra rich in the bargain. He's an ordinary guy who discovers his talents in the world of trafficking and we watch as he revels in his successes and shrugs off his losses.

Surprisingly, his story is told with a wider scope than usual in the genre as it balances his relationship to his parents throughout his rise and fall on the pathways of the drug trade. This alone makes it a unique journey, and much is to be credited to writers and director for the touches of humanity in a drug story. Much credit also to the actors, Ray Liotta and Rachel Griffiths as Fred and Ermine, Jung's father and mother, whose attitudes toward their son's line of work is expressed without sweeteners.

There's much to be noted in how Fred Jung is depicted in his relationship to his son. Perhaps realizing that demonizing his choices would lead to estrangement, Fred refrains from any extreme of parental condemnation. He expresses his discomfort and fears but avoids diluting his love with lack of understanding. In fact, he takes a position that preserves the solid relationship between father and son they've shared since childhood. It smacks of reality and is a writing achievement in this film world of easy cliches.

But Jung's life is also about the women. First, there was Barbara, beautiful Barbara, played here by the heroine of "Run Lola Run", Franka Potente. How great to see this delightful actress in another context, in a big enough American film to virtually assure her presence in our film world.

Some time after Barbara's death, Jung meets Mirtha (Penelope Cruz), the flirtatious fiance of a business associate who can be dangerous. But, Jung is dangerous enough to fend off any immediate revenge when he and Mirtha hook up in an instantaneous love fest. Cruz, a somewhat workshoppy actress in her American films does her utmost to be the fiery, feisty, selfish bitch with the latin temperament. Her exotic good looks helps her convey the character but we sense it as a performance more than a little aided by directorial deftness with the editing table. Despite her limitations, however, we also sense that "Blow" will be one more springboard toward her achieving a role being carved out as an international star.

The film doesn't avoid all the predictable pitfalls of a drug story or the inevitable destiny of those that fall into the business of drugs. Smart as he is, Jung doesn't anticipate obvious dangers, constant betrayals, and the evil he's immersed in. Yet, through Depp's craft and presence, we remain sympathetic to him throughout as we readily forget the damage he is doing to the unseen victims of the drug. We cheer him on as though he's a folk hero and feel for him as his woman, enraged by her disappointments and his calm detachment, brings him down and into the arms of the law.

At 124 minutes, it's too long, but there's enough real-life uniqueness here, and enough of a fascination provided by Depp, to deliver the goods despite some inevitable cliches.

Estimated cost: $36,000,000. Projected U.S. Boxoffice: $55,000,000.

Rated N for Non-addictive.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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