It's been a while since Johnny Depp was in a movie really worth talking about. The lone recent exception is a project in which he was nowhere to be seen. The actor's playfully gonzo voiceover work for the 2011 Oscar-winning animated feature "Rango" provided a helpful reminder of Depp's distinctively off-kilter performative strengths, which the oddly digressive movie echoed as well. But most of his recent work has lacked the qualities that usually make Depp stand out.
While Depp has never lost hold of his eccentric brand, most of his recent projects fail to reflect it. Even "The Rum Diary," ostensibly an opportunity for the actor to resurrect his penchant for impersonating Hunter S. Thompson's loopy mannerisms and psychedelic worldview, felt like a missed opportunity that contained Depp's chameleonesque skills rather than unleash them. Whither the weirdo?
This week brought news that he may have sought sanctuary with Wes Anderson. Basking in the glow of the combined commercial and critical success of his latest whimsical achievement, the infectious ode to childhood romance "Moonrise Kingdom," Anderson has lined up plans for another European jaunt, this one entitled "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and set to include Depp in a cast that also reunites the director with longtime collaborator Owen Wilson.
Since scant details are available about the project right now, it's hard to say whether Depp will take on a prominent role in the movie (one assumes he gets at least a little more screen time than his recent cameo in "21 Jump Street"). Nevertheless, the move suggests Depp desires a retreat from his own self-made brand, a panoply of dreamers and gothic misfits largely defined by his roles in countless Tim Burton movies. It was Burton who gave Depp an escape from the superficial glamor of teen heartthrob status with a starring role in 1990's "Edward Scissorhands," which firmly recontextualized the actor's moody stare with added levels of mystique that have since come to dominate his public image.
But in recent years that image has started to falter. Depp's last truly noteworthy performance -- aside from stunt work like the phoned-in weirdness of his Mad Hatter portrayal in Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" -- arrived with his initial turn as Jack Sparrow in the first "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie. He also exuded notable creepiness in "Sweeney Todd," although the role largely resembled many earlier ones.
That looks like a stroke of brilliance, however, compared to most recent Depp movies (I won't speak for "Dark Shadows" since I haven't seen it, but reviews suggest I didn't miss much). In addition to the awfully bloated fourth "Pirates" movie, Depp also starred alongside Angelina Jolie in "The Tourist," which Ricky Gervais openly mocked at the Golden Globes without apparently insulting either star. They knew it was a stinker.