Johnny Depp plays an eccentric. Oh, that doesn’t narrow it down?
When you go into a film knowing that it has been critically panned and a financial flop gives you the forethought to see the negatives in it. Mortdecai is however a movie with too many flaws to be able to turn a blind eye to them. There is something to like and i was not bored, but I did sigh and shake my head far too frequently to remain positive overall. This feels like a good idea poorly executed and high profile actors making a film for a pay cheque and a laugh. Mortdecai will be making all the wrong lists at the end of the year i am sure.
A vanity piece for Johnny Depp as his golden years are quickly forgotten, Mortdecai see’s Depp as the lead Charlie Mortdecai, a Clouseau/Mr Bean style art dealer who finds himself in the middle of a race for a missing Goya as collectors and thieves worldwide struggle to get one step ahead in this farcical comedy. Mortdecai is joined in his race by hapless man servant Jock (Paul Bettany) and his wife Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow). Throw in a Mi5 agent who feels more like a local policeman (Ewan McGregor), a nymphomaniac (Olivia Munn), half a dozen art whores (including the ever sparkling Jeff Goldblum) and an assassin and you have the ingredients for a romp that takes in London, Los Angeles and Russia. The plot is sequenced and paced well, as a generic Hollywood movie taking its cues from a novel it does well and wraps everything up well, satisfactory but not challenging. It is elsewhere then that Mortdecai falls down.
Johnny Depp’s performance as Mortdecai is at best pedestrian and at worse a true crime from an actor who has brought life to so many complex characters from Ed Wood to Cry Baby and even Jack Sparrow. Here Depp attempts to combine slapstick coward Peter Sellers and suave Hugh Grant to disastrous results. Mortdecai is a distinctly unlikable character, stupid, selfish and stereotypically upper class. Johanna is similarly one dimensional, Gwyneth Paltrow being redeemable as she lights up the screen with her smile, similarly Olivia Munn is captivating as a momentary foil to Mortdecai. Ewan McGregor delivers a paint by numbers performance that is well below his best, but his character isn’t afforded much range, his motivation is purely carnal, very original. The stand out here is actually Paul Bettany’s Jock. Jock plays the sidekick suffering through Mortdecai’s blunders, but is redeemable as the ‘moral’ centre of the film, following the instructions of his master to beat, bludgeon and protect while simultaneously bedding all in his path.
This is a comedy and I did laugh, not as much as they would have hoped, but there is enough to enjoy here. A constant call back to Mortdecai’s facial hair is probably the flattest of the jokes, its one pay off being a scene later in the film that provided me with the largest laugh luckily. Slapstick humour reminiscent of Pink Panther or The Naked Gun is clearly flagged and often falls flat, the occasional subversion of form does provide some laughs and if you were not familiar with slapstick comedy then more jokes may land. I have found a new insult however, “Your mother and father only met once and money changed hands,” not bad.
Mortdecai is a failure of a film, unoriginal, stereotypical and littered with pedestrian performances that just make the audience wish for more. Aggressively stylized British films can work, Kingsman was also released in January and is proof of what is possible. By all means watch Mortdecai, it’s better than the Steve Martin Pink Panther or the Johnny English sequel, but it’s a continued slide for Johnny Depp and a disappointing waste of a potentially interesting script and cast.