‘I am the world’s greatest lover,” proclaims Don Juan DeMarco, as the film that bears his name gets under way. “No woman has ever left my arms unsatisfied.”
Perhaps, but Don Juan’s tone sounds anything but boastful. In fact, there’s a whisper of resignation in his silky, Spanish-accented voice, a rueful note suggesting that his prowess is almost as much of a burden as it is a source of gratification.
And as the story of “Don Juan DeMarco” unfolds, we discover that the 21-year-old lover is rueful indeed - so much so, in fact, that he threatens to take his life by leaping from a billboard. That threat leads to his being placed in the care of Dr. Jack Mickler, the soon-to-retire therapist who talks him down by temporarily entering his fantasy.
The rest of this new romantic comedy is a gentle struggle between the dreamy young man and his burntout shrink to decide whose world view will prevail. It’s also a lively dance between Johnny Depp, the talented thirtysomething actor, and Marlon Brando, the authentic legend of the cinema.
Although it’s hard to say which dance partner is leading, the two are certainly well-matched.
As Don Juan, Depp has youth, looks and an air of ripe sexuality. Brando, though overripe in the role of Dr. Mickler, has enormous authority and a finely honed comic sense. His every gesture is jest. If “Don Juan DeMarco” is not a great or important film, it does turn out to be an amusing - and even flattering - showcase for their talents.
Jeremy Leven, who wrote this movie, is a novelist and psychotherapist who is making his directorial debut.
The words that the filmmaker puts in the mouths of his characters often are simultaneously romantic and funny. After Don Juan confesses to his one true love that he has slept with more than 1,500 women, he senses her outrage.
“I could see,” he tells his shrink, with hilarious understatement, “this was a sum substantially higher than she had in mind.”
So affected is Dr. Mickler by the romance surrounding Don Juan that he begins to pay more attention to his wife, who is played with gentle charm by Faye Dunaway.
As the doctor attempts to rekindle their dormant sexual relationship, she responds eagerly.
Those who remember Brando as the sex symbol he was for more than two decades may need a few minutes to get used to his physical size, which seems to increase with every movie. (He now makes Chris Farley look like Kate Moss.)
But though Brando’s weight is appallingly out of control, his performance is superbly modulated. He doesn’t even seem to be working hard, yet he gives what will probably be one of the most delicate comic performances of the year.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “Don Juan DeMarco” *** Location: North Division cinemas Cast: Directed by Jeremy Leven, starring Johnny Depp, Marlon Brando and Faye Dunaway Running time: 95 minutes Rating: PG-13