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Matthew Jacobs

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I Miss The Old Johnny Depp: What Happened To Our Eclectic Wonderboy And His Once-Interesting Movie Choices?

Posted: 07/05/2013 3:31 pm

Johnny Depp

There once was an actor who hardly knew his way around Hollywood. Kindhearted moviegoers found him, isolated and unrefined, and took him in. They raised him up to be a good boy, a productive, contributing member of society. He gained some momentum and became an illustrious figure among the neighborhood, until an inexplicable checklist of poor choices sent him reeling against the eclectic legacy he'd created for himself. And then, just as quickly, the townsfolk turned their backs and -- like so many before him -- his endowment became a thing of yesteryear.

The actor in question is, of course, Johnny Depp, whose evolution suddenly bears striking resemblance to that of his iconic character Edward Scissorhands. Edward wasn't the same person by the end of the movie, having regressed after the pressures of the world around him became unbearable. I'm not sure that's what's happened to Depp, though -- that at least might be understandable. No, instead, this box-office legend and thrice Oscar-nominated actor has embarked on a swift career decline that seems to be entirely of his own accord. And boy, do I miss the old Johnny Depp.

The old Johnny Depp was everything the new Johnny Depp is not: interesting, daring, unique. Today's Depp seems concerned only with tentpole fare and vapid box-office behemoths, and while the 50-year-old actor has long provided a reliable revenue stream for studios, his penchant for smart scripts accompanying those big dollars has evaporated. Now, do understand: There's nothing wrong with being a Big Movie Star. But for an actor whose career was catapulted by unpredictable, eccentric roles ("Scissorhands," "What's Eating Gilbert Grape," "Ed Wood," "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," "Blow"), his "Sweeney Todd" days have been traded in for -- yawn -- the forthcoming fifth entry in the bloated "Pirates of the Caribbean" series and "The Tourist."

We're reminded of this grave deterioration of creativity by this week's needless "Lone Ranger" release, with the movie's hyper action and uninspiring script punctuating Depp's downfall. Where's Donnie Brasco? Ichabod Crane? J.M. Barrie? Gone, only to be replaced by Tonto, yet another cartoonish character of the same vein as Jack Sparrow and the Mad Hatter. Sure, Depp is fun to watch in these movies, but he's not doing anything particularly interesting, aside from donning thick layers of makeup and flailing his hands about while coating his voice in over-the-top inflections. These seemingly otherworldly characters have lost all of the humanity that Depp was able to imbue in the movies he turned out when his choices felt less arbitrary and much less commercial.

It's a classic Hollywood case study: The daring critical darling becomes shunned by purists for favoring capitalism (in the form of his usual $20 million paychecks, no less) instead of creativity, yet -- cha-ching! -- the dollars keep on rolling in. It's an admittedly elitist stance to take: that an actor's prerogative to refocus his career in any way he so chooses should come second to the long-standing image he built in his nascent years as a budding celebrity. But I can't stand by idly anymore, continuing to dismiss this squandering of a gold-star legacy. "Pirates" Part 5 excepted, Depp has some potential for redemption on the horizon in next year's sci-fi thriller "Transcendence" and Rob Marshall's all-star adaptation of "Into the Woods." But it'll take more than these two entries to remind us of the earnestness that used to lie in Depp's oddball hands. So, at the risk of sounding entirely too hipster-esque about it all: Mr. Depp, please conjure up the weirdness, the uniqueness and, well, the "you" that we once knew. We miss it. Come back to us, Edward Scissorhands, please come back.

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