At the beginning of The Libertine, Johnny Depp, in long black Renaissance curls that make him resemble a debauched rock-star musketeer, sneers into the camera as he describes his ability to seduce women and men alike — a boast masquerading as a confession. ”You will not like me,” he declares, spitting out the words with ice-blooded disdain, and it’s easy to think, That’s well and good — as long as we get to see you indulge in a bit of nasty sexy gamesmanship. In The Libertine, however, it’s all downhill following the terse misanthropy of that opening monologue. As John Wilmot, the Second Earl of Rochester, a 17th-century poet, wit, and drunk who was celebrated and reviled for the single-mindedness of his depravity, Depp singes away his sweetness, making himself a cross between Casanova and Richard III. The movie, though, in a singular feat of perversity, never shows him doing anything even remotely pleasurable — like, you know, sleeping with someone. This may be the most sexless film about a seducer ever made.
So what does the Earl do? Why, he talks. That’s all anyone in The Libertine does. On top of that, what comes out of their mouths isn’t what you might call, except in the most loose technical sense, ”dialogue.” It is gibberish, verbiage, ghastly faux-literate conversational diarrhea. The Earl forms one quasi-attachment to an actress (Samantha Morton) who’s too naive to save him, and he writes a play mocking Charles II (John Malkovich), which propels him on a downward spiral that culminates in an icky death by syphilis. The Libertine is such a torturous mess that it winds up doing something I hadn’t thought possible: It renders Johnny Depp charmless.