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It's `Pleasantville' with dementia, impotence and rotten teeth

July 09, 2006|Ki-Min Sung | KI-MIN SUNG is an arts and lifestyle reporter for the Dallas Morning News.

NEVER HAS A drug so desperately needed a Hollywood agent. The nearly invisible addiction of choice for more than a million Americans, methamphetamine -- a.k.a. meth, crank, speed, ice, crystal, glass -- needs a starring role in movies. Cocaine and heroin headlined in "Traffic," "Blow" and "Scarface," among other films, receiving recognition and becoming cautionary household names. But when it comes to lowly meth, where is the riveting script, the "visionary" director and the A-list stars ready to pump the drug on a media junket?

Lacking a dramatic treatment by Hollywood, most of us don't know that meth, as powder, crystal or liquid, can be ingested in more than one way -- you can snort, smoke, inject, inhale or swallow it.

It's a stimulant that suppresses appetite and gives the user a sense of omnipotence. It saps the brain's limited supply of dopamine, the chemical associated with euphoria. It causes hallucinations and paranoia. "Tweak" -- a meth user's term for being high -- long enough and your nervous system, and teeth, disintegrate.

Meth is the drug of ordinary Americans. Housewives use it to get through the day, truck drivers to endure long, lonely journeys, and the urban poor because they can't afford cocaine. The Internet fueled the explosion of meth use in rural America by making recipes available online. At least 1.4 million Americans are addicted, according to a 2004 federal survey.

Consumption has been curbed somewhat since Congress and local governments restricted sales of over-the-counter decongestants with ephedrine, a key meth-making ingredient. But labs in Mexico continue to export more refined versions of the drug to the United States.

"Philadelphia" raised awareness of AIDS, as did "Leaving Las Vegas" of alcoholism and "A Beautiful Mind" of schizophrenia. We need a movie to do the same for meth.

For starters, cast a gorgeous actress in the lead who can do blue collar and get ugly to realistically show us "meth mouth" (gum disease and tooth decay caused by dead blood vessels from meth use). Someone like Charlize Theron, who was quite convincing as a serial murderer in "Monster." Hire her makeup artist in that movie to add the skin sores and soul-dead sunken look that comes with frequent meth use.

Theron will have to gain weight to look like the rest of us so she can visually show how meth turns a user into a skeleton. She'll also have to learn the trademark dull expression of the addict whose brain is permanently damaged.

Next, sign on director Steven Soderbergh, who was good at humanizing the characters in "Traffic." Who could better show Theron's character unraveling as she turns to stealing or prostitution to fuel her drug habit?

But make sure Quentin Tarantino is a consultant because no one does gross like he does. Remember Uma Thurman OD-ing in "Pulp Fiction," her eyes rolling into the back of her head while blood and heroin drip from her nose?

Plenty of sex is a must to show how meth boosts the libido and dissolves inhibitions -- for a while -- increasing the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. But the screenwriter will have to move past the titillating sex to the impotence that chronic meth use causes. And he can't forget to include the "shadow people" addicts see in the later stages of use, caused by psychosis and schizophrenia. Tap the special-effects team from "Donnie Darko" to create them.

There's got to be an obligatory murder in a meth deal gone bad, a house blowing up to show the danger of making meth and the Theron character contracting HIV from turning tricks to feed her habit. Toss in prison, a common destination for meth addicts, or the psychiatric ward, a close second.

There's much to be learned from putting meth abuse on the big screen -- the consequences, most importantly. Meth is a story dying to be told.

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