Video Verdict: ‘Don Jon’

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, left, and Scarlett Johansson in a scene from “Don Jon.” Gordon-Levitt was the primary creative force, writing, directing and starring in the film.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, left, and Scarlett Johansson in a scene from “Don Jon.” Gordon-Levitt was the primary creative force, writing, directing and starring in the film.

It’s another slow week for home video, as only one major theatrical release is moving to the small screen.

Don Jon

3 stars (out of four)
Rated R for strong graphic sexual material and dialogue throughout, nudity, language and some drug use
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

In recent years, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has proven himself to be one of the film industry’s most talented young actors. With “Don Jon” he demonstrates that his skills extend beyond performance. Gordon-Levitt wrote and directed the movie, and he also plays the title role, proving capable in every capacity.

The picture focuses on Jon Martello (Gordon-Levitt), a good-hearted, New Jersey player whose friends call him Don Jon as a nod to the legendary Spanish libertine Don Juan. The nickname is appropriate because Jon has a remarkable ability to bed women only hours after meeting them.

Despite his impressive moves, Jon’s sexual conquests are empty because real women don’t provide the release he feels while watching pornography. The depth of his problem becomes apparent when he meets the gorgeous Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson). Barbara is the girl of his dreams and he immediately thinks about settling down, but his porn addiction becomes an issue. Jon is also forced to examine his life when he meets an older woman (Julianne Moore) who is brutally honest in her assessment of both his charms and flaws.

Because of the movie’s frank look at sexuality, it is littered with profanity, nudity and heavily edited clips of pornography. In fact, the film pushes the limits of its R rating. That does not, however, mean that it’s especially erotic. Although “Don Jon” contains countless sexual images, they are used to reinforce the argument that pornography is fantasy and not real life.

Gordon-Levitt’s script is frank and clever, and the movie makes valid points about the carefully manipulated sexual imagery we see each day. The film also does a fantastic job defining its title character.

Gordon-Levitt portrays Jon as a pumped-up pretty boy who spends hours at the gym and never misses a confession, yet thinks nothing of bedding a girl and cutting her loose. He also drives his muscle car in a perpetual state of road rage. The fact that viewers get so tuned to his quirks during a 90-minute film is a credit to Gordon-Levitt’s filmmaking prowess.

“Don Jon” loses steam at the end, particularly during a finale that – although satisfying – feels rushed. A lengthier conclusion would have been fitting, particularly since we get to know Jon so well during the first 85 minutes of the film. Still, the project is a success overall, and Gordon-Levitt’s career as a writer-director seems promising.

Extra features on the DVD release are limited to two short movies. The Blu-ray contains those extras, plus several making-of features.

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“CBGB”: Drama centered on the famed CBGB nightclub in New York City. The venue played a key role in the early punk rock scene, hosting bands ranging from The Talking Heads to Green Day. Alan Rickman, Malin Akerman, Justin Bartha, Johnny Galecki, Rupert Grint, Estelle Harris, Ashley Greene and Richard de Klerk star. Directed and co-written by Randall Miller (“Bottle Shock”).

Perry Mason Movie Collection – Volume 1: In 1985, producers revived the “Perry Mason” television show with a series of TV movies starring Raymond Burr as Mason and Barbara Hale as his trusty secretary, Della Street. This collection includes “Perry Mason Returns,” “The Case of the Notorious Nun,” “The Case of the Shooting Star,” “The Case of the Lost Love,” “The Case of the Sinister Spirit” and “The Case of the Murdered Madam.” It is available exclusively at Amazon.com.

“Ninja II – Shadow of a Tear”: Continuation of the saga started in the 2009 action film “Ninja.” Scott Adkins once again stars as Casey Bowman, an American master of ninjutsu. This time, he sets off on a personal mission of revenge. Directed by Isaac Florentine.

“Hell Baby”: “Reno 911!” creators Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon wrote and co-directed this comedy about a man (Rob Corddry) and his pregnant wife (Leslie Bibb) who enlist the help of an exorcism team after moving into a haunted house.

“Sweetwater”: Set in the 1800s, this drama tells the story of a former prostitute (January Jones) who teams with a rugged lawman (Ed Harris) to take revenge against an evil religious leader (Jason Isaacs). Directed by Logan Miller.

“Ritual”: Horror film about a young woman (Lisa Marie Summerscales) who is drawn into the dealings of a satanic cult with her estranged husband (Dean Cates). Written and directed by Mickey Keating.

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

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