Judge Clark Douglas is the world's greatest lover...of nachos.
"If you can't get laid after seeing this film, you can't get laid!"—Australian tagline
Don Juan DeMarco is a unique little flick containing two of the world's most unique movie stars. One was rising, one was falling. One was young and handsome, the other was old and bloated. One hadn't yet begun to explore the depths of his endless eccentricity, the other had become consumed by his endless eccentricity. I'm referring of course to Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl) and Marlon Brando (The Godfather), both of whom provide memorable evidence for why the former was becoming a major movie star and why the latter was an oversized shadow of his former self.
The premise is compelling: Depp plays a young man who is absolutely convinced he is Don Juan. He claims to have bedded thousands of women, but the one he truly desires is unattainable. As such, he must commit suicide at the young age of 21. As he stands atop a billboard and prepares to leap, Dr. Jack Mickler (Brando) intervenes, talking Don Juan down and taking him to a psychiatric ward for treatment. Mickler is planning to retire in ten days, but is eager to take on this one last case before he calls it quits forever.
Over the course of the sessions Mickler and Don Juan share together, something surprising happens. Don Juan's amorous accounts of his past are so vivid and sensual that Mickler finds himself inspired to rekindle his own marriage with his wife Marilyn (Faye Dunaway, Network). Will the doctor be able to find a cure for his patient's delusions? Is there a possibility that this young lover really is Don Juan?
The concept is an entertaining one, but also a tricky one to pull off. Thankfully, Depp was up to the task, and is able to sell purple prose like, "Have you never met a woman who inspires you to love? Until your every sense is filled with her? You inhale her. You taste her. You see her unborn children in her eyes and you know that your heart has found a home. Your life begins with her, and without her it must surely end." Depp is so filled with conviction during these passionate speeches that he is more likely to inspiring swooning than chuckles, and that is no small feat. His performance should be the anchor of an unlikely gem, but instead it's the high point of a middling romance. Why? I point you in the direction of Mr. Brando.
Brando's performance is another of his late-career mysteries, a lazy and baffling turn that brings almost nothing of value to the film. The actor looks remarkably bored during the delivery of much of his dialogue, and only seems to take an interest in the film when he's allowed to wander down one of his rabbit trails. Consider the scene in which Brando shoots pieces of popcorn into the air through a rolled-up magazine and forces his wife to catch them in her mouth. It's the sort of obscure detail which Brando loved to incorporate into his performances, but eventually his performances became obscure details and nothing else. During the moments in which he must do simple things like delivering key lines, he phones it in. Brando has a far less challenging role than Depp, but still falls short of the tasks presented to him. At the end of Depp's steamier stories, the doctor is supposed to appear both curious and a little hot and bothered. Brando acts as if he's just been awoken from a nap. The best thing which can be said of his performance is that he doesn't actually appear to hate the role (which was certainly true of his feelings towards some of his other later parts).
Strangely, it seems like the role was ripe material for a Brando comeback. The character echoes the actor in some rather explicit ways: "You used to be one of the greatest in the business, but you've been doing it by-the-numbers for a long time now," Mickler's boss tells him. There's also a playful dig at Brando's weight early on ("You and I have been going to the same bakery," a heavyset colleague tells him) which adds to the sense that the part was tailor-made for the actor. It's the story of a man recovering his passion for both his profession and his wife, but Brando doesn't capitalize on these elements. Instead, he sleepwalks through the park and only springs to life when his misguided impulses are indulged. It was reported that Depp would only make the film if Brando was given the part—and undoubtedly, Depp will defend Brando's acting choices to this day—but Don Juan DeMarco could have been so much better if somebody who still put in an effort had been given the role (Peter O'Toole would have made a spectacular Dr. Mickler, as he could have played both the weary resignation of the early scenes and the lusty vigor of the later scenes with ease).
Don Juan DeMarco (Blu-ray) has received a 1080p/1.85:1 transfer which recaptures the film's warm, lush visuals quite nicely. The many flashback/fantasy sequences in particular look great, with the warm orange/red glow of the scenes filling the screen with life. Black levels are deep and rich, flesh tones are accurate (speaking of which, there's a surprisingly large amount of flesh on display throughout this amorous PG-13 flick) and shading is impressive. The image can look a little soft at times, but that's largely due to the manner in which the film was shot. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is quite nice, with Michael Kamen's flavorful score serving as a particular highlight. Kamen's music is largely centered around the melody which forms the groan-inducing Bryan Adams end title song "Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?," but Kamen's nuanced instrumental variations on the melody are quite appealing. Dialogue is crisp and clean throughout as well. There's nothing to give your speakers a workout, but it sounds good. Supplements are limited to an isolated score track, a Bryan Adams music video and a pair of trailers.
Truthfully, I enjoyed Don Juan DeMarco, but it's frustrating to realize the film is merely a lightweight pleasure when it could have been something special. When Depp's in command of the film—and he generally is—the movie works. When the ball is passed to Brando, the movie starts sputtering. Ah, well. The Blu-ray is reasonably priced and looks attractive.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
• Isolated Score
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