Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 29, 2019)
Welcome to the world of direct-to-video films, Johnny Depp! With 2019’s The Professor, the Oscar-nominated actor finds himself firmly in the land of projects that essentially lacked theatrical distribution.
Richard Brown (Depp) teaches a university class. Richard learns that a terminal illness leaves him with roughly six months to live.
Faced with this terrible news, Richard alters his life to follow a more hedonistic path. Richard feels less constrained by the usual mores as he also attempts to cope with his fate.
All of that leaves Professor as the kind of project that theoretically would lead toward Oscar consideration. As Richard, Depp gets a big, meaningful arc to embrace and show his acting chops.
Both Depp and the film itself bite off more than they can chew, though Depp displays reasonable restraint. With all the emotions that come Richard’s way, Depp must’ve been tempted to gobble down scenery, but he usually goes down a fairly subdued path.
This makes his performance more effective than expected. I feared he’d shoot for a broad, over-emotive take that did little more than annoy, but Depp manages to keep Richard acceptably natural and realistic.
Unfortunately, the rest of Professor falls short of its aspirations, as it offers a muddled piece. On one hand, it aspires to be a comedy about the professor who loosens up on death’s door, but on the other, it hopes to provide lots of life lessons and serious statements.
Neither side works. If Professor committed more fully to either direction, it might’ve blossomed into something satisfying, but because the movie can’t decide which path to follow, it stumbles and feels rudderless.
That said, Professor could’ve wound up as a much less appealing affair. Along with Depp, we get a good cast, and they manage to add class to the proceedings.
Professor also avoids too much mawkishness. Inevitably, it pursues some mawkish melodrama, but its tone usually stays on a more even keel.
These positives prove enough to make Professor a watchable film, but I can’t claim it elevates above that level. Too inconsistent to truly succeed, this ends up as a pretty mediocre effort.