Was ever there a movie star who took such palpable delight in playing dress-up as Johnny Depp? He's at it again in Libertine, prancing about in the rococo powdered wig, ruffled silk shirt and silver-tipped walking stick of a 17th century English gentleman. If only this wan, convoluted biographical drama were worthy of his stylin' outfits and obvious enthusiasm for portraying an intellectually gifted, self-destructive aristocrat.
Depp brings his usual physical panache and sly humor to the role of John Wilmot, the scandalous second Earl of Rochester. Wilmot (1647-1680) was known for his military exploits, pornographic scribblings and prodigious wenching. In Libertine Wilmot devotes himself to transforming a drab actress (Morton) into the toast of the London stage. Along the way he alienates his loving wife (Pike), his religious mother (Francesca Annis) and King Charles II (Malkovich), all before dying an agonizing death from syphilis (allowing Depp to don a fake silver nose after the earl's own honker rots off). Despite impassioned performances by Depp and Pike, and an amused one by Malkovich, little in Libertine holds one's attention for long. (R)