[Produced by Huayi Brothers Media, Infinitum Nihil, Mad Chance Productions & OddLot Entertainment]
[Distributed by Lionsgate]
Directed by David Koepp
Written by Eric Aronson
Based on the novel Don’t Point That Thing At Me by Kyril Bonfiglioli
Starring Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany, Ewan McGregor, Olivia Munn, Ulrich Thomsen & Jeff Goldblum
Synopsis: Juggling angry Russians, MI5, and an international terrorist, debonair art dealer and part time rogue Charlie Mortdecai races to recover a stolen painting rumoured to contain a code that leads to lost Nazi gold.
Nowadays, it’s hard to believe that Johnny Depp used to stand for something; if you spoke to younger viewers, he’s just that goofball that appears in a lot of Tim Burton films and/or the Pirates franchise. It’s a damn shame when you consider that the famously oddball actor rose to prominence for being a powerful dramatic force.
To be fair, it’s not like he’s forgotten how to act; he’s absolutely committed to the role of upper class rapscallion Lord Charlie Mortdecai, an obscenely wealthy art dealer, and occasional smuggler, who’s facing bankruptcy and forced to get creative with his latest scheme. It’s just that his upper class English “I say, old bean!” act wears thin after the film’s opening scene, and yet it continues uninhibited for a full 100 minutes. Depp clearly fancies himself as the second coming of Peter Sellers, but there’s no nuance, or intelligence in what he does, and it’s not exactly far flung from his infamous pirate Keith Richards impression – just with less booze and more ludicrous facial hair. It’s so deliriously forced and put on that it’s hard to ever settle into a rhythm with the film, and very quickly it becomes boorish and tiresome.
Gwyneth Paltrow fares better as Mortdecai’s domineering, scheming wife Johanna – spotty accent aside. Alone, she’s charming and engaging, but when the two are forced together, we unfortunately bare witness to how little chemistry the characters have together. Unfortunately, when the two get together there’s just a void where their romance should be, and as a result the film becomes laborious during their multiple sequences together.
Speaking of laboured, most of the jokes revolve around Mortdecai’s manservant and faithful companion Jock Strap (yes, really), who’s played amicably by a seemingly always game Paul Bettany (doing his best Jason Statham impression). Sporting a cockney accent and appropriate facial scars, Bettany chews through every scene he’s in, becoming the highlight of an otherwise risible endeavour. Unfortunately, most of the jokes revolve around Jock either getting shot, stabbed, bitten, hit by a car, burned, or harmed in some way – or conversely by the fact that he can’t enter a new location without having sex with someone. One memorable scene sees Jock join the mile high club, before watching the gorgeous young lady go back to her seat where her poor husband is juggling a newborn baby. Probably the funniest moment of the film, and it’s not even that effective.
To complicate matters further, Ewan McGregor plays the charming MI5 agent that enlists the help of Depp’s eponymous rogue – to find a missing Goya painting that supposedly has the secret Swiss account number of Herman Goering inscribed on the back, granting the owner access to all of his hidden Nazi riches – but he’s mainly interested in winning the affection of Mrs Mortdecai – and so what ensues is a pointless love triangle, one where McGregor and Paltrow fare a hell of a lot better together than the aforementioned Depp and his wife. It also unnecessarily complicates the plot, and turns what should have been a simple crime caper into a labyrinthine and frustrating affair. So much time is focused on simmering gazes and innuendo laden speech that when the plot decides to get moving again it comes as a genuine (but not exactly pleasant) surprise.
See, there are an assortment of dangerous folk that are also after the painting, a corrupt American art dealer with a nymphomaniac daughter, a Russian mobster and his testicle electrocuting obsession, a notorious terrorist (who we’re repeatedly warned is extremely dangerous and will use the money to fund countless acts of terrorism), and of course a Chinese gangster who served as the opening scene fodder, and yet inexplicably turned up at the end to vye for the painting, because why not?
Most baffling is the international terrorist, who is so brazenly incompetent (and apparently able to fly around the world in economy with relative ease), that it’s a wonder how he’s a threat to anyone. If he can’t even bump off Depp’s embarrassing twerp, how on earth are we supposed to believe him as a threat to the free world?
Director David Koepp (oddly the only film he’s directed and not written), has worked with Depp before on the solid thriller Secret Window, and brings a few welcome visual flourishes to the table, but it’s too little too late, and by the time the film has dropped its practically mandatory, unsurprising (not to mention, ill-fitting) “F-bomb” it’s given up any hope of being even a passable endeavour. There’s a real sense of fatigue towards the end, as Mortdecai slips into its final, and most preposterous sequence for an unsatisfying climax, when in reality, it could have easily ended 20 minutes earlier.
It’s truly disappointing, as this was clearly a project envisioned with buckets of passion during its inception, and yet the result is so flimsy and cartoonish that it’s a wonder that the studio ever felt comfortable enough to release it. It’s also a massive mistake to have it release at an R rating, something that could have been avoided with fewer vagina jokes – and nothing would have been lost. In fact, if anything the classification of Mortdecai merely serves to show how sexually repressed the MPAA is, as the entire film is nothing more than a puerile cartoon with nob jokes liberally scattered throughout.
Mortdecai is an inert piece of unfunny comedy, production-designed within an inch of its already debatable life. Depp and co. give admirable performances, but the script is so broken it’s only interested in the lowest hanging fruit. Even at 106 minutes, the film massively outstays its welcome, and as a result makes everyone involved look bad. It doesn’t help that its European caper status and strong production design draws unfavourable comparisons with Wes Anderson’s lush The Grand Budapest Hotel, which only serves to draw more attention to Mortdecai‘s crippling faults. Unfortunately, it seems discerning moviegoers will have to keep avoiding films starring Johnny Depp for the foreseeable future.
Ultimately, a wasted opportunity for everyone involved – the overall experience is less of a comical farce, and more of an absolute shambles. I say, old bean!