Running time: 140 minutes. Rated R (graphic drug abuse, disturbing and violent images, pervasive language, and sexual content). In select theaters; on Apple TV+ March 12.
Let’s start a program called D.A.M.R.E., or Drug-Abuse Movie Resistance Education. We’ll tote our pamphlets and XL T-shirts to university classrooms and give speeches discouraging film students from making anymore flicks about troubled dealers and junkies. Our work will be very important, for Hollywood has been ravaged by addiction and desperately needs help.
Until then, though, these scripts will keep getting churned out, and we’ll keep tuning out. The latest is “Cherry,” an overlong adaptation of Nico Walker’s popular semi-autobiographical novel about a Cleveland man’s descent from student and Army medic to heroin-addict criminal.
Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo of “Avengers: Endgame” fame, the well-worn drama gets high marks for style and proficiency, but you don’t have to be Nostradamus to know exactly where it’s going every step of the way. At the movies, stories like this one are a dime bag a dozen.
“Cherry” starts with a bank robbery, and promises to inform us how our cherubic leading man fell into armed thievery. “Enticing!” you think. When we learn that the answer is heroin, however, the path ahead becomes totally obvious.
That’s not to say Walker’s real-life travails weren’t rich and fascinating. They were, but they are better suited to the page than the screen.
The main character, called Cherry (Tom Holland), works as a bartender in Ohio in the early aughts. He has an angry bout with his girlfriend (Ciara Bravo), enlists in the army and heads off to the unforgiving sands of Iraq where he witnesses the horrors of war. After he comes home — the sweet girl waits for him — he’s rankled by post-traumatic stress disorder and gets prescribed oxycodone. Great idea, doc. Soon he’s holding up banks to pay his drug debts.
Ciara Bravo and Tom Holland have their lives destroyed by drugs in “Cherry.”©Apple TV/Courtesy Everett Coll
As loco as Hollywood has gone for drugs, they’ve gone doubly so for Holland. The 24-year-old Brit has starred in three major movies in the past 12 months, and continues to play Spider-Man for Sony, at which the appealing actor excels. This kid comes off like a young Michael J. Fox or Matthew Broderick when he cracks a joke, so why is his formidable charm being plopped in painful stories of struggle and ruination? The fit is uncomfortable here. He’s likable as ever, but you stifle a laugh when he shoots a gun, or shoots up.
“Cherry” is the latest wacko addition to the Russos’ roller-coaster directing résumé. The brothers have helmed everything from the highest-grossing film of all time, “Avengers: Endgame,” to “You, Me and Dupree,” one of the lowest-aiming films of all time. You just never know what you’re gonna get with these guys. But they’re not the problem, the script is.
Actually, their work in the Marvel Universe — sorry, Martin Scorsese! — has enriched their other projects. Visually, they go big by cooly blurring the background of a scene, pumping up the color or washing it out. The look is brimming with invention and verve.
The plot? Not so much.