Will Johnny Depp in "Transcendence" transcend or descend?
While there's plenty of reasons to believe that Wally Pfister's sci-fi thriller "Transcendence" could make a swimmingly strong directorial debut for the long time cinematographer of Christopher Nolan, especially when considering the solid supporting cast that has been assembled through the producing powers of Nolan himself, the wildcard (as he has always been) lies in its leading man; Johnny Depp, as we look into the movies that were ruined by his poor performance, even as we hope that he would finally be able to transcend beyond his affable weirdo characters.
Nick of Time (1995)
Shortly after coming off from Tim Burton's "Ed Wood", Johnny Depp's first venture into more serious and action packed fare comes through John Badham's "Nick of Time" where Depp plays Gene Watson, an accountant and single father who is extorted to assassinate a governor within 90 minutes, or else his kidnapped daughter is killed.
Although the unfolding of events in almost real-time is a novelty, a clean shaven and bespectacled Depp only manages to further entrench the notion of his good looks over his acting ability, which leaves a mostly detachable performance that doesn't give any sense of urgency to what is at stake.
The Astronaut's Wife (1999)
Depp plays NASA astronaut Spencer Armacost, who while on a space mission was struck by an explosion that resulted in a brief lost of communication. When Spencer is found alive and returns home to his wife, Jillian (Charlize Theron), strange occurrences (the Depp and Theron sex scene being one of them) begin to point that it was not Spencer who had returned home, prelude by the strange behaviours of Spencer's partner who was on the same mission when both astronauts were thought to be lost, and the mention of 'them'.
If there needs to be evidence of how badly Johnny Depp performs in a sci-fi thriller (first warning sign for "Transcendence"), they can find it in Rand Ravich's feature-length directorial debut "The Astronaut's Wife". Another victim of Depp's natural looks getting in the way of him sinking into the role, this time as a creepy villain, Depp's (and Theron's, for that matter) performance here is a miscast result of the Hollywood typecast machine. "The Astronaut's Wife" was deemed so badly that it remains today as Depp's lowest rated movie in Rotten Tomatoes and the only feature length that was made by director Ravich since. Maybe for good reason too.
The Ninth Gate (1999)
Dean Carso (Johnny Depp) is a selfish and greedy rare book dealer who is hired to authenticate three remaining copies of an occult tome, and bring back the original copy to his employer by any means necessary. As Carso's investigation inadvertently (and predictably) turns bloody and sinister, he is led on by a mysterious girl who connects the dots for him and soon discovers that the price in search of the genuine copy, may be more than he (or his employer) had bargained for.
One of the reasons for Depp's slow rise to fame (hitting his peak when he was 40) was because he has been known to be selective of his roles, preferring to work with respected directors rather than making the quick buck from standard Hollywood fare (if the first two movies on this list hasn't proven that he is not quite suited for that either). Although not 'matured' enough to play the role of Carso at the time, Depp was persistent on getting the role because it would mean that he gets to work under the direction of the Roman Polanski, when they had met in Cannes for Depp's directorial debut "The Brave".
The result of which is a disappointing outing for both actor and director (and the talents of composer Wojciech Kilar and cinematographer Darisu Khondji) that tarnished the performance and career of Depp and Polanski. It is widely known that there was some friction between the actor and director which could explain why Depp wasn't doing his best. Or the only director he can work with is Tim Burton.
Secret Window (2004)
Woken up by loud knocks on his cabin door, Depp as reclusive author Mort Rainey finds a man with a cowboy hat accusing Mort of plagiarising a story the man had written years ago. Disturbed by the incessant harassment of the man with a Southern accent that becomes more life threatening, Mort tries to make amends by getting to the bottom of his alleged plagiarism which leads towards his dissolving marriage and state of mind.
Adapted from a novella by Stephen King with his brand of twisted endings, it would seem that Depp had found a niche of characters that fitted his acting style; insecure and delusional with their own maddening idiosyncrasies. Even with a disheveled Depp (the one that we are used to), Depp's onscreen performance for this collaboration with screenwriter/director David Koepp came out mostly feeling mixed, which highlights Depp's appeal to be inclined towards being enigmatically funny than enigmatically scary.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The World's End (2007)
When Depp first appeared in "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl", it would seem that the appeal of Depp had finally come full circle where he has been able to blend his ambiguous likability without having to put on loads of makeup like his next Tim Burton feature. Captain Jack Sparrow was almost the synthesis of Depp's best roles; unconventional, deceivingly sharp witted and has a hypnotic charisma that capitalised on his natural looks. It is commonly believed that "Curse of the Black Pearl" had launched him to sure-bet star almost overnight and could have vindicated Depp of all the terrible experiments he did with his unmasked roles.
However by "The World's End", Depp's Sparrow may have worn out his welcome by becoming a shtick that got a little old. And considering the high adventures he has had on the seven seas (and being dead at least once), his franchise persona could have used a little more depth (no pun intended) and development instead of staying as the same cloudy and eye-widening captain that should have been taken to the asylum instead of his next adventure "On Stranger Tides".
Alice in Wonderland (2010)
The working relationship between Johnny Depp and Tim Burton is no secret to anyone who has seen any of their eight collaborations to-date together, and Burton's role in pushing Depp's acting career is indispensable. It is no surprise that some of the well-loved eccentric roles that defined some of Depp's best performances live in a world just as eccentric as can be imagined by Burton.
Even though "Alice in Wonderland", starring Depp as the Mad Hatter, would be one of the highest grossing movie ever made by the pair and the ruthless butchery of Carol Lewis' Wonderland with a battle scene and an armor-wearing Alice that came more from Narnia aside, this is where both director and actor had gone off the deep end. Nowhere near the amazing acts from their earlier films and not as nuanced to make Willy Wonka his own in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", this is arguably one of the worst performances put out by Depp for a Burton collab as though he had fallen into a rut, or just isn't as invested as having the Mad Hatter swing a sword at the jabber-wocky as Burton was (announced sequel notwithstanding).
The Lone Ranger (2013)
Probably realising that the money boat of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise has started to leak by its fourth instalment, it was evident that producer Jerry Bruckheimer was looking towards creating a new hit franchise by reviving an existing property. Setting up with a similar formula of massive budgets, and reuniting Johnny Depp (only this time in a supporting role) with director Gore Verbinski who made the first "Pirates" enjoyable, it was a risky gamble taken by Disney for that huge payoff.
That payoff turned out to be a monumental disaster for both the studio and Depp as it became one of the biggest losses to the sound of US$150 million by the end of its cinema run and Depp's half-crazed Tonto that never had the hooks as Jack Sparrow earned him his first nomination for a Razzie award.
Cinema Online, 10 April 2014