Public Enemies, Johnny Depp

Universal Pictures

Review in a Hurry: Johnny Depp and Christian Bale star in a karaoke version of a gangster epic. You'll recognize the melancholy tones, but the whole thing is off-key and forced.

The Bigger Picture: Depp plays John Dillinger, the folk-hero 1930s hood who robbed banks apparently because he wanted to. Or was it because the Depression forced him to? We never find out! But we do know that, thanks to Depp and director Michael Mann, he looks great doing it.

Mann, as usual, seems unable to blend the right elements of pulp and pathos necessary for a "great" gangster flick. As FBI agent Melvin Purvis (Bale) tries to put the squeeze on Dillinger, Public Enemies grinds to nothing more than a watered-down escape caper, a chase without context or meaning.

Are Dillinger & Co. doomed heroes in a corrupt world, or myopic savages? Why did he reach the level of celebrity he did—one day cracking rocks in the big house, the next day posing for paparazzi? Is it worth sitting through two hours of muck to find out? Absolutely not!

What is it with Mann and his almost masterpieces? Similarly to Collateral and Heat, Public Enemies has wonderful spasms of violence and wit, but they aren't consistent enough to merit Enemies being anything but forgettable. Even more dumbfounding is that, with the level of meticulous detail Mann brings to each scene, you'd think his luscious visions would be backed up by a compelling story. But no.

The script is stale and frozen in the middle, and there's no emotional core for Depp to latch on to. So he mugs, struts and delivers the cheesecake lines like a pitchman. And Bale does a generous amount of squinting and nostril flaring. It's all empty, and we wonder when he plans on knocking off that ridiculous whisper-growl he's adopted since Dark Knight?

Add it up, and you're left holding a bag of taxing, unrewarding nothin'.

The 180—a Second Opinion: The artistic design is sumptuous and almost intoxicating enough to make you forget that the actual movie is a stinker! Almost!

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