QUITE without meaning to, we ended up watching two new Johnny Depp starrers last week. Not that we’re complaining—Depp’s movies ring our bells because they are more often edgy than trite and formulaic.
The first film, “21 Jump Street,” we knew to be the film version of Depp’s first, big TV hit cop series a long time ago. What we didn’t know was that Depp would make a surprise appearance in it, as an older undercover agent who was working on a big, top-secret drug bust that the two young cops in the film cluelessly botched.
Before Depp’s character entered the scene, the film starring Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill was doing well enough—but it was the senior actor’s unexpected appearance that made the show special. That’s the effect Depp has on an otherwise standard production—he puckishly twists and turns it on its head with his madcap take and edgy character riffs.
His surprise cameo turn came at exactly the right time, because the humor surrounding the movie’s central plot premise, about young cops masquerading as high school students to break up a drug ring on campus, was starting to wear thin. What with its excessively numerous jokes about crotches and stuff.
Since the movie was set in high school, some silly, adolescent and teen humor was called for, but not as much as the movie dished out!
In any case, the new action-comedy team of Tatum and Hill did catch fire, so we can expect it to quite profitably resurface in a sequel a couple of film seasons from now.
Our reaction to Depp’s follow-up starrer last week, “Dark Shadows,” was less equivocal, as Tim Burton’s film version of another old TV series smashingly hit the spot with its extravagantly mordant take on the old vampire yarn that inspired it.
Depp is known for his “ogres’ gallery” of cinematic weirdos, from Edward Scissorhands to Sweeney Todd, so he’s exactly right for the role of Barnabas Collins in this new and creepy cinematic confection.
His performance balances pathos and black humor with great precision, and shyly invites us into the heart of the seemingly homicidal and heartless character he portrays.
Amazingly, Eva Green (as the witch whose unrequited love for him has made her “punish” Collins by transforming him into a vampire) is able to match Depp’s prodigious performance with her own copious bag of thespic tricks. Most other actresses would have been left eating the actor’s dust, but she’s able to hold her own—and that’s no mean achievement.
“Dark Shadows” is an opulent treat from beginning to end. Its major flaw, in fact, is one of surfeit—it’s loaded with so many yummies and is simply too long to be able to keep its appeal and excitement on an upward trajectory, as all memorable cinematic confections should.
Despite the feeling of satiety that eventually sets in, however, the movie is a great showcase for Depp’s unusual take on the darker side of human nature, and ends up as a gem—a blood-red ruby, no doubt—to crown his latest superlative, bravura portrayal.