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film review

Johnny Depp as Donald Trump.

Say what you will about Johnny Depp – that he's a wash-up, a wasted talent, an anthropomorphic wand of Ten Thousand Villages-brand nag champa – but the guy can be pretty funny.

Indeed, his recent career has been so laughably lousy (see: Mortdecai, a film I watched four minutes of on an airplane and turned off due to acute discomfort and physical repulsion) as to seem actively self-parodying. It's almost impossible to make jokes about Depp, precisely because he is a joke. And it seems like he knows it. So who better to play Donald Trump, the businessman-cum-politician who's just as broadly laughable, but without any apparent shred of self-consciousness?

In what's likely to go down as his best turn in years – if not ever – Depp plays a pitch-perfect Trump in The Art of the Deal: The Movie, a spoof of Trump's life and 1987 book The Art of the Deal, released this week by comedy website Funny or Die.

The film can be watched here

Trump's the sort of character who's as much a gift as a curse for comedians. When everything that squeaks through those puckered lunch-meat lips sounds like a joke, how do you write jokes for Trump? The Art of the Deal: The Movie, written by former Onion editor Joe Randazzo and directed by Drunk History creator Jeremy Konner, solves this joker's conundrum by pitching itself as an actual, factual, made-for-TV movie written, directed, produced, cast and costume-designed by Trump that never aired in the late eighties (it was interrupted by an overlong football game) and has recently been rediscovered by film archivists. (Ron Howard, who introduces the film, calls it "hauntingly bad.")

Guest-starring Patton Oswald (as a sun-bleached Merv Griffin), Alfred Molina (as Trump's "Jewish lawyer"), Kristen Schaal (as his secretary) and ALF (as himself, a creature Depp's Trump calls "the only illegal alien I've ever loved"), The Art of the Deal: The Movie plays, in the absolutely best way, like an inside joke cooked up over too many beers that's been taken way, way too far. By focusing on Trump's past as a real-estate developer and self-styled, superrich cultural icon, the movie makes the point that Trump has always been a ludicrous, loud-mouthed, self-important cartoon. And also: a racist.

As Trump, Depp takes a comparably low-key approach, eliding broad caricature in favour of comic nuance – he absolutely nails Trump's curious, Noo Yawker pronunciation of the word "huge" as "yuge." In sidestepping Trump's turn to politics (save for a last-gasp joke that sees Christopher Lloyd travelling through time from 2016 to the late eighties to talk Trump out of his presidential run), the mock-biopic ends up going a long way to further discredit a guy who didn't seem like he could be further discredited. And beyond feeling somehow relevant, it's just really, really, really funny.

Maybe now the Funny or Die brass will green-light a feature-length version of that super-sombre "Weird" Al Yankovic biopic they teased a few years back.

Special to The Globe and Mail