There are several workable narrative elements in writer-director Wayne Roberts’ “The Professor,” starring a miscast Johnny Depp as Richard, an English prof with terminal cancer who, as the film’s press notes hyperbolically mislead, “transforms into a rebellious party animal.”
Unfortunately, the movie, which comes off strangely wide-eyed about such “outré” things as marijuana and same-sex attraction, evokes some 1970s-era George Segal vehicle as it struggles to pair hip defiance with come-to-Jesus-style pathos, the latter of which provides a few of the film’s more compelling moments.
Although Depp’s professor does go a bit nutty in a kind of say anything-try anything way after receiving his death sentence, we don’t get enough sense of his supposedly square, pre-diagnosis self to enjoy, much less applaud, Richard’s nothing-to-lose catharses.
In addition, several ill-advised behaviors here rankle in this age of #MeToo, a movement that blew up mere months after the film’s mid-2017 shoot. The specter of Depp’s ongoing battle with ex-wife Amber Heard over her domestic abuse allegations doesn’t help.
Depp, sporting a distractingly foppish, unfurling-flag hairdo, commits to his character’s tricky balancing act but over-relies on his signature rakishness to fully convince. Rosemarie DeWitt, Zoey Deutch, Jack Huston and Ron Livingston offer decent support in underwritten roles, with Odessa Young impressing as Richard’s budding lesbian daughter.
Rated: R, for language, sexual content and some drug use
Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Playing: Starts Friday, Arena Cinelounge Sunset, Hollywood; also on DirecTV and VOD