It’s easy to see why Mortdecai would have been more exciting than Johnny Depp’s latest misfiring action-comedy. Mostly set in contemporary England, but striving for the zesty retro vibe of a vintage Peter Sellers or Terry-Thomas film from the Swinging Sixties, Mortdecai is an anachronistic muck that never manages to recapture the breezy tone or fast rhythm of classic caper films it attempts to parody. Despite the fact that it features a large ensemble and David Koepp’s A-list screenwriter credentials (Jurassic Park, Panic Room, Spider-Man), this dreary farce is yet another stain on Johnny Depp’s checkered career of underwhelming pet projects.
Mortdecai is based on Kyril Bonfiglioli’s first in a series of irreverent comic novels, which chronicle the amoral escapades of aristocratic British art dealer Lord Charlie Mortdecai (Depp), who is aided on his drunk adventures by his thuggish but resourceful and sexually attractive manservant Jock Strapp (Paul Bettany). Realizing some of his idol’s debaucherous tendencies in life, Bonfiglioli battled with poverty and alcoholism until dying from cirrhosis in 1985.
Johnny Depp stars as a snobby playboy narcissist who is so infatuated with his comically ludicrous new moustache that he risks driving his irritated wife Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow) to divorce in Mortdecai. In a shabby, drafty old manor, the disreputable gap-toothed rascal sees an opportunity to flee financial ruin when a unique Goya painting goes missing after a deadly heist. Grudgingly enlisted for his art-world knowledge by suave MI5 agent and longtime rival Alistair Martland (Ewan McGregor), Mortdecai jetted off around the world on a quest to recover the stolen work and exploit the priceless secret believed to be concealed on its reverse side.
Johnny Depp is well-known for drawing on real-life role models to create his characters, frequently accessing his music icons, notably as Keith Richards in the Pirates of the Caribbean series. Charlie Mortdecai appears to have borrowed a lot of his mannerisms and accent from Paul Whitehouse, Depp’s pal and British TV comedian. Depp has previously appeared on The Fast Show, a BBC sketch comedy that’s been on the air for over a decade. He frequently provides him with supporting roles in his films, including Mortdecai. He’s the foul-mouthed automobile mechanic with a questionable side business fencing stolen artworks in this film.
Mortdecai is a mishmash of star names and conventional farce themes, but its major flaw is an almost surreal lack of humor. The main actors spend nearly every scene mugging for the camera, milking any possible lowbrow sexual innuendo and clumsiness that novice screenwriter Eric Aronson’s thin script allows. Ironically, when the odd funny line does occur, these overcooked performances are frequently more harmful than beneficial.
Johnny Depp’s fruity British accent is pleasant enough, but Conor McGregor’s smarmy imitation sounds forced and unconvincing. Paltrow alone has any real acting credit, playing Johanna with straight-faced calm while the rest of the cast goes insane around her.
On the page, Mortdecai and Strapp are clearly uncouth Jeeves and Wooster relatives. On screen, their boorish behavior and antiquated views are more akin to Austin Powers. Mike Myers discovered rich humor in the gap between a chauvinistic past and a politically correct present; much of the labored humour in Mortdecai, on the other hand, relies on outdated preconceptions redeemed only by any overt post-modern irony. Women are insatiable nymphomaniacs who enjoy being groped, Americans vulgar materialists, Brits upper-class dimwits, and so on. The characters in this sketch are way too simple to be hurtful, yet they’re also far too old and lifeless to be amusing.
The climactic sequence, which takes place at a high-end London art auction house, assembles all of the characters and subplots in a cartoonish bloodbath that gets old quickly. The only unforgivable offense Mortdecai commits is one that would astonish his roguish anti-hero to death. Because the film he was named after turned out to be a frightening bore.ư
Now playing on Netflix or CinemaHD.
Directed: David Koepp
Based on: Don’t Point that Thing at Me
by Kyril Bonfiglioli
Release date: January 23, 2015
Running time: 107 minutes
Country: United States
Movie Rating: 2.8/5