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‘Don Jon’: Actor-director Joseph Gordon-Levitt scores as a porn-loving meathead

‘DON JON’ ★★★

Jon Martello Jr. Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Barbara Scarlett Johansson

Esther Julianne Moore

Jon Martello Sr. Tony Danza

Relativity Media presents a film written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Running time: 90 minutes. Rated R (for strong graphic sexual material and dialogue throughout, nudity, language and some drug use). Opens Friday at local theaters.

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Updated: September 26, 2013 6:35PM



On the heels of Mark Ruffalo playing a sex addict trying to have an actual, person-to-person romance with Gwyneth Paltrow in “Thanks for Sharing,” Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a porn fiend who prefers late-night sessions with his laptop to the real thing, Scarlett Johansson.

Talk about your Me-First World Problems.

Already established as one of Hollywood’s most appealing young leading men, Gordon-Levitt delivers as the writer, director and star of this offbeat, frank and often surprising gem.

Beefed up with 12 pounds of muscle he put on for the role, often shirtless or wearing the sleeveless T-shirts that used to be known as “wife beaters” in less enlightened times, Gordon-Levitt plays Jon, a Jersey bartender nicknamed “Don Jon” by his idiot buddies because he scores with a new conquest every week.

At least once a week, Jon and his two drooling friends hit the clubs and scope out the women, rating them from 1 to 10, with a 10 called “a dime.” Jon openly brags about his streak of snagging a new one-night stand each week — and then he goes to Sunday Mass and confesses his sins.

This guy’s a preening, narcissistic meathead, but we see flashes of his potential — even though Jon makes the dubious claim it’s easier to get lost in the world of Internet porn than in a one-night stand, let alone an actual relationship. Minutes after another tryst with another babe, Jon races to his laptop and goes to work. This guy’s a serial, self-pleasuring fool.

Enter Scarlett Johansson, who’s terrific as Barbara, a gum-cracking bombshell whose romantic worldview has been shaped by beauty pageants and sappy movies. In some ways, Barbara’s ideas about love, commitment and long-term relationships are just as skewed as Jon’s. She’s mortified when he talks about buying a Swiffer at the department store, and she claims a man should do whatever the woman wants him to do, whenever she wants him to do it, to prove his love.

Even though “Don Jon” is trafficking in 21st century techno-territory, Barbara’s unsubtle efforts to improve Jon and the expletive-filled dinner table scenes with Jon’s family reminded me of some of the plot elements from “Saturday Night Fever.” Tony Danza is a scene-stealer as Jon’s dad, who curses like a sailor and makes no effort to hide his appreciation for Barbara’s curves when Jon brings her home for dinner.

And then there’s Julianne Moore’s Esther, a troubled woman in Jon’s adult-ed class. It takes a while for her story to gain traction, but the more we know her, the more we want to spend time with her.

About halfway through “Don Jon,” I thought Gordon-Levitt the writer was painting himself into a corner and possibly miscalculating what audiences would think about one major character. Not so. He has a plan, and it’s a good one.

Some of the running gags in “Don Jon” work better than others. Jon’s friends are cartoonishly over the top, and a minor subplot involving Jon’s sister defies plausibility, with a payoff we can see coming a mile away. But Gordon-Levitt the writer-director delivers some great laugh lines and a couple of nifty plot pivots, and Gordon-Levitt the actor gives a winning performance playing a guy who’s quite frankly a grade-A creep for much of this story.

Email: rroeper@suntimes.com

Twitter: @richardroeper



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