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Johnny Depp Can’t Carry ‘Brasco’

A bunch of olive-complected guys get together in “Donnie Brasco,” and you know what that means - guns, autopsies, “youse” as the plural of “you.”

Virtually all of the Italian-American characters in movies are mobsters and “Donnie Brasco” is no exception, but it has a new take on mobbery. Johnny Depp plays Brasco, an undercover FBI man who befriends Lefty (Al Pacino), a Mafioso who treats Donnie like the son he never had.

“Donnie Brasco” is most successful when it focuses on Lefty.

Pacino can be too much (I swear I felt his spittle on my face at “City Hall”), but he makes Lefty a Willy Loman-like mensch who keeps getting passed over for promotions.

A sad, defeated man, Lefty is a truly original character and Pacino’s last scene is some of the best-observed, quietest work he has ever done.

Unfortunately, “Donnie Brasco” isn’t about him. It’s about Brasco, who, because of an incomplete script and Depp’s opaque performance, never comes to life. His conflict is between his job and the family he neglects for months at a time. But the movie begins with Brasco already involved with the mob, so we don’t get any scenes to show us if Brasco really loves his family or if he’s trying to escape them. And Depp doesn’t help us understand what drives Brasco.

“Donnie Brasco” is frustrating, because it’s literate, smartly made and maybe only a couple of scenes away from greatness (a few half-formed moments, particularly with Lefty’s family, suggest that whole subplots have been edited out).

There’s a beautiful epiphany when Depp shows us Brasco realizing that he takes better care of his mob “family” than of his own family. The problem is that the movie does exactly the same thing.

xxxx “Donnie Brasco” Location: Lincoln Heights, Newport and Showboat cinemas Credits: Directed by Mike Newell, starring Johnny Depp and Al Pacino Running time: 2:01 Rating: R