Brando is the heavy in a lightweight 'Don Juan'

April 07, 1995|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

The point of no film review is to ridicule the appearance of one of its stars, particularly a star with a long and distinguished career behind him. That principle established, it still must be said, reluctantly, that in "Don Juan DeMarco," Marlon Brando has become so gigantic that the spectacle of his bloatedness actually interrupts one's ability to concentrate on the film.

Under a blond wig that would look out of place on a professional wrestler, the overweight matinee idol, once the hope of a generation, is a pretty sorry sight. He has no concentration, no focus, appears not to know his lines and mumbles so consistently that half his dialogue perishes before it reaches the ear. The dangerous Brando of "A Steetcar Named Desire," the noble Brando of "Julius Caesar," the poignant Brando of "On the Waterfront," the majestic Brando of "The Godfather" are all gone. The only movie Brando that remains is the hack who goofed his way through "Superman" as Jor-El for 3 million of the easiest dollars ever earned. That's "Don Juan DeMarco": Jor-El as a psychiatrist.

The film itself is a slender whimsy, derivative of the isn't-mental-illness-cute? genre. It is in fact Johnny Depp's second isn't-mental-illness-cute? effort, following on "Benny and Joon." Depp plays a young man utterly convinced that he is the one, the only Don Juan, the fabled Spanish lover of legend and literature.

Bemasked, caparisoned, wearing leather gauntlets, high black boots, a sash and a grandee's goatee, he makes a good enough impression (even in midtown Manhattan) to be able to talk countless amused but pliant young women into believing, at least for a night. But he is melancholy, and after a decreed "last conquest," he attempts suicide.

Taken to the closest mental hospital, he is put in the care of Our Hero, half-heartedly but whole-bodily representing himself as Dr. Jack Mickler. Of course, when all his colleagues demand that the irresponsible young man be coked to the gills on drugs, Brando's Dr. Mickler insists on listening to the story, primarily because if he doesn't there's no movie.

It's a hopeless delusion, of course, but so charming that Mickler is drawn in. He sees in the young man's fantasy something that reflects upon his own situation as a man in his 60s who has essentially given up on the vibrant hope and possibility of an erotic life. Thus stirred, Dr. Mickler goes home and rekindles a relationship with his wife, played at a level of surprising blandness by the great, brittle, neurotic dynamo Faye Dunaway.

Liberated, Dr. Mickler becomes Don Juan's greatest champion and battles the psychiatric establishment to accept that his is a different mind-set, not necessarily a pathological one. Break it down to its smallest coherent units, and the film is a number of soft-core, flesh-less, nearly but not quite pornographic fake memories by Don Juan interspersed with a number of exceedingly tame but flirty exchanges between Brando and Dunaway. Now and then some doctor's politics come into play, but the film never has much in the way of tension or drive and is so busy trying to be cute or fey, it rapidly wears out its welcome.

I don't care whether Brando loses weight or not: The heavy Orson Welles maintained his edgy brilliance (see "Touch of Evil," for example). But I'd love to see him really lay it on the line once more, really go for it. In "Don Juan DeMarco," they can hardly keep him awake.

"Don Juan DeMarco"

Starring Marlon Brando, Johnny Depp and Faye Dunaway

Directed by Jeremy Leven

Released by New Line

PG-13 (adult situations)

**

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