A rare misstep for Depp


No one in movie history has managed to segue from lightweight TV-series star to deep-dish actor more convincingly than Johnny Depp. In the 17 years since he made his leap from Fox-TV's 21 Jump Street, he's managed the transition in a manner worthy of the Guinness Book of World Records - or the Alec Guinness School of Screen Chameleons. In his major roles he's been a shape-changer, going from the conscience-ravaged FBI agent of Donnie Brasco to the conscience-free Hunter S. Thompson surrogate ("Raoul Duke") of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas without missing a beat or losing an ounce of conviction.

But in his most death-defying leap yet - from the everlastingly boyish J.M. Barrie of Finding Neverland to the title role of The Libertine - he crashes to earth with a sickening thud. As the degenerate John Wilmot, Charles II's Earl of Rochester and sometime-ally in the House of Lords, he brings neither debauched grace nor lucidity to the role of a wastrel who ends up looking the Corpse Husband. And John Malkovich, as Charles II, lets his false nose, sickly skin and cascading wig do most of the acting.

The Libertine (Weinstein Company) Starring Johnny Depp, Samantha Morton, John Malkovich and Rosamund Pike. Directed by Laurence Dunmore. Rated R. Time 130 minutes.

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