At the start of “The Professor,” a glib portrait about a dying academic, the title character, Richard (Johnny Depp), receives a diagnosis of stage-four lung cancer; without treatment, he has probably six months to live. His plan to tell his family is upstaged after, in a single evening at the dinner table, his daughter (Odessa Young) comes out and his wife (Rosemarie DeWitt) reveals that she’s having an affair with his university’s chancellor (Ron Livingston).
So he keeps the news to himself. And the cancer, far from debilitating him (too much), transforms Richard into a free man. He drives around with shades on and his dog on his lap. He smokes a cigarette — he wasn’t a smoker before — and experiments sexually.
To his students, he becomes a mad prophet, dismissing any members of the class who aren’t truly interested in literature and fashioning himself into an unhinged “Dead Poets Society” figure for the rest. (“Do not give into mediocrity like the other 98 percent of the world,” he advises his students, with whom he also smokes pot and drinks.)
The writer-director Wayne Roberts complements this tired (at best) depiction of cancer as a liberating force with equally worn-out screenwriting devices, as when Richard lets loose in a mortifying toast at a formal dinner near the end. Depp’s turbocharged archness is basically the whole show. The actor appears as out of whits to give as the man he’s playing, with little interest in enunciating clearly or hiding his self-regard. His mugging can be fun to watch, but he is hardly convincing as a dying man.
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Rated R. Serious misbehavior with students. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes.
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