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Friday, 25 May, 2001, 09:57 GMT 10:57 UK
Blow to the senses
Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz
A non-judgemental drugs movie from Hollywood
By BBC News Online's Jackie Finlay

When Hollywood finds a bandwagon to jump on, it doesn't jump off in a hurry.

Ted Demme's Blow is the latest of a number of films set in the self-indulgent and recently glamorised 1970s, following the popularity of Boogie Nights and Almost Famous.

And it capitalises on the huge interest shown in the seedy world of drug-smuggling, evinced by the success of Golden Globe and Oscar-winning film Traffic.

But whereas Traffic, Boogie Nights and Almost Famous offer a critique of such hedonistic habits, Blow enjoys the romp through this version of the million-dollar lifestyle with hardly any critical overtones.

Ray Liotta may be in the running for an Oscar nomination
Ray Liotta's role as Johnny Depp's father is masterfully played

The opening scenes show women and children taking part in a fruitful harvest - which just happens to be cocaine (and the most you've ever, ever seen).

And from then on we are right behind loveable smuggler George Jung, every step of the way.

The film is based on the biography by Bruce Porter - Blow, How A Small-Town Boy Made $100m with the Medellin Cartel and Lost It All.

In the 1970s, Jung was the first American to import cocaine to the US on a large scale and was Pablo Escobar's right hand man. He is in prison on drugs charges until 2014.

Not a man you would expect US audiences to warm to.

Yet, played by Johnny Depp, he comes over as a loveable small town entrepreneur made good - building up his business, making housefuls of money and following the American dream.

Penelope Cruz sidesteps a romantic typecasting
Actress of the moment, Penelope Cruz, proves her range as Jung's feisty and selfish wife
Depp, who made cross-dressing film director Ed Wood look simply misunderstood, imbues a difficult part with his trademark innocence.

But one of his best performances to date is almost outdone by a succession of scene-stealing hairstyles.

Ray Liotta, who plays his father, could well beat him to any Oscar nominations. He puts in an emotional performance as the man who sees the major league criminal simply as his beloved son.

For the short time she is in the film, Penelope Cruz also steals the show as Jung's feisty and selfish wife - proving her range after Captain Corelli and neatly sidestepping a romantic typecasting.

The film has an awful lot of energy, humour and drive. It decides to wallow in the waste of its hero's life choices in the last five minutes - but really, it should not have bothered.

The weak scene is disappointingly patronising to the viewer's intelligence, and a concession to morality Demme need not have made.

Blow is on general release from 25 May

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