A Terminal Case: Johnny Depp in THE PROFESSOR

By James Kenney

Johnny Depp has had a rough time of it lately, with his numerous controversies and his seeming recent dismissal from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise; somewhere during all these unwieldy developments he found time to shoot a low-budget Canadian-based dramedy costarring Rosemarie Dewitt and Danny Huston about a Professor facing his own mortality, a terminal diagnosis of late-stage cancer allowing no last minute reprieve, not that he’s looking for one {although once academic faculty earn tenure, they should be allowed to LIVE FOREVER).

Nevertheless, THIS unfortunate professor accepts the coming end with relative grace, aplomb and acceptance, and could The Professor  be read as Depp looking at his own terminal career and shrugging off his recent and conceivably irrevocable loss of Hollywood prestige and income? (He has another film on the shelf, the 2017-shot Who-Killed-Biggie cop drama City of Lies that only just dribbled out in the U.S. on Video on Demand, having only shown up in Italy of all places in its initial release)—It was “just yesterday” that Depp could open and generate interest in the non-Pirates Whitey Bulger biopic  Black Mass, and now he can’t get arrested.  On screen anyway, on the streets it seems an even-money proposition that he’s going to be hauled in for something. 

As written and directed by Wayne Roberts, The Professor concerns, yes, a Professor who uses the occasion of arriving death to harangue his students, confront the deteriorating marriage he and his wife have been suffering through, tell off his insufferable boss, that sort of thing; Depp remains curiously subdued throughout, which isn’t dramatically indefensible but doesn’t allow the film to “elevate” much, as Robert’s script isn’t bad, but his direction lacks aggression, or more to the point a point of view on the proceedings. Perfunctory might be the word for it, as he does little beyond stage the material in a down for the count manner that might indeed suit Depp’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” funk, but we could use something to alleviate the general despondency of the film and its protagonist.

Still, still.  Depp has a couple of surprising sexual couplings (death frees you to experiment!), he reconciles with his estranged wife, and has a somewhat tender climactic dialogue with his daughter, who’s also angry at the world but for more typical late-teenage reasons.  The film doesn’t cop out on its premise, but I couldn’t decide if the ending was content or simply placid.  What tells me that Depp is a true star is that I come out of this insignificant VOD release more concerned for him than anything else.  Find the guy who gave you a break in Cry Baby, John Waters, and do something on the cheap with him in the parts of Baltimore that scare the tourists.  Depp agreeably handed himself over to Kevin Smith to play the broad French Canadian detective Guy LaPointe with little dividends in Tusk  and Yoga Hosers but luckily few noticed, so another foray into indie madness with the long dormant Waters could generate some heat. The Professor is interesting as a trinket, but while I wouldn’t call it charmless, it also isn’t charming.  It’s not unlovable, but essentially its setup is its finale, no surprises this trip, and Depp is generally a surprising actor when he’s on.  He’s behaving in The Professor. But who needs it?

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