It’s tough to watch any Johnny Depp performance lately without recalling the nightmarish entity he’s become off-screen. That said, this may be the most well-suited role yet for the Depp of today: Perma-sloshed, on a tear to insult everyone around him and particularly enraged by anything he suspects of having a whiff of emasculation. (At one point, his character sneeringly refuses to get into a Mini Cooper.)
Depp is a professor, named Richard, who’s just been given the diagnosis of terminal lung cancer, which gives him a year to live with treatment and six months without. Given that the film’s original title is “Richard Says Goodbye,” you can guess which path he takes.
At first, at least, it seems like director/writer Wayne Roberts (“Katie Says Goodbye,” so maybe it’s a series?) is going to give a satisfying kick to the cliché of the inspirational dying cancer patient. Richard has no interest in inspiring; he dives into being brutally honest both at home, where he and his wife (the always terrific Rosemarie DeWitt) drifted apart years ago, and in the classroom, where he purges his students of posers, hits up his remaining pupils for pot and rails against “feminist and queer” agendas (the first eye roll of many for this viewer).
Gradually, his agenda of reclaiming some sort of downtrodden, old-timey masculinity begins to resemble Kevin Spacey’s snide “American Beauty” shtick, but Depp does deliver his initial put-downs with true panache, and you remember why he was once such a great. But by the time he’s addressing a roomful of stuffed shirts about learning to seize the day, the movie’s lost even the novelty of its mean-spirited appeal and wandered into melodrama. Zoey Deutch is fine in a non-demanding role as the requisite starry-eyed female student, and Danny Huston (“Wonder Woman”) gives us a softer side as Richard’s weepy best friend.
But this is, at its core, a one-man show, and given the uncertain future of Depp’s career (being axed from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, for example), it might also have been titled “Johnny Says Goodbye.”