Mortdecai (2014) / Comedy-Mystery
MPAA Rated: R for some language and sexual material
Running Time: 106 min.
Cast: Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ewan McGregor, Paul Bettany, Jonny Pasvolsky, Olivia Munn, Michael Culkin, Jeff Goldblum
Director: David Koepp
Screenplay: Eric Aronson (based on the book, "Don't Point That Thing at Me", by Kyril Bonfiglioli)
Review published January 23, 2014
In what may be a harbinger of things to come, I saw Mortdecai on its opening preview evening. It was only me and two other separate dudes in the crowd, and when one of those guys finished his popcorn just after the one-hour mark, he got up and walked out, leaving the screening down to one other person besides me. And were I not committed to bringing you this review, I'd have followed suit with the popcorn-muncher. With about 20 minutes left to go, I sat alone. This movie sure knows how to clear a room.
In what may turn out to be, handily, the worst movie in Johnny Depp's (Into the Woods, Transcendence) career, Mortdecai is a film seemingly made by people who are absolutely tone deaf to comedy. The actors do that which they've been trained to do when trying to go for laughs when there aren't many to be had in the script, which it to ham it up for all it's worth and hope all of these zany, heavily accented characterizations manage to spark, even accidentally, a few solid snorts of amusement in the audience. I think the only snorts it will produce will be among those who momentarily nod off from utter boredom.
The makers of Mortdecai seem, if I had to venture a guess, to be trying to craft another franchise in the vein of the Blake Edwards/Peter Sellers' Pink Panther films. The problem: despite Depp's prowess at character acting, Sellers was an absolute genius at it, especially in comedies, and no one should or would dare to compare. Depp doesn't so much embody this flamboyant, foppish character called Mortdecai so much as mug incessantly, doing whatever he can to take this one-dimensional characterization and hit the same beats over and over, hoping that there is laughter in repetition. Though there's nothing funny or notable about Mortdecai's fledgling moustache, you'd think it was the stuff of an absolute laugh riot the way that it is referred to in just about every new scene.
Depp plays Charlie Mortdecai, a world-famous art dealer sporting a new moustache whose services are enlisted to track down a stolen masterpiece by Goya. It's more than jus the worth of the painting he's after -- written on the back is the code that wil help unlock a dormant bank account stuffed with look horded by the Nazis. Joining in the hunt is Mi5 agent Martland (McGregor, August: Osage County), who has his eyes also set on Mortdecai's wife, Johanna (Paltrow, Iron Man 3), whom he intends to seduce as he sends good ol' Charlie out on a wild goose chase across the world.
Mortdecai is directed with visual zip by David Koepp (Premium Rush, Ghost Town), who worked with Depp before in the Stephen King adaptation, The Secret Window, also to mostly unsuccessful results. The adaptation of Kyril Bonfiglioli's 1973 novel, "Don't Point That Thing At Me" is by Eric Aronson (On the Line), and one can only wonder, based on the fact that all of these actors seem to be working overtime in their characters to try to make it funny, just what anyone saw from the written pages to suggest a viable comedy could be made out of such trite and off-the-mark jokes.
The cast passes their lines back and forth as if they surely must think that what they're saying is uproariously funny, and yet jokes fly by with nary even a smirk of amusement on the part of most of the theater audience, save for those who might laugh at how unfunny it truly is. Though an R-rated film (almost mystifyingly), this is the find of movie that could easily be edited for prime time network television with just a handful of bleeps.
Here's a litmus test as for whether Mortdecai is for you: Mortdecai's man-servant is named Jock Strapp (Bettany, The Avengers). Do you even remotely find that worthy of a chuckle? If so, have at it, man! In another of the film's many recurring jokes that aren't very funny, Jock is absolutely irresistible to women everywhere, and Mortdecai is always stunned to learn that he's just come from another tryst whenever they meet. So, we're supposed to laugh at the look of bewilderment on Charlie's face when he stands with mouth agape witnessing a woman leave the airplane lavatory with Jock and then go back to her child and husband on the flight. Zzzzz.
The film features a telling scene in which Mortdecai hands Martland a tray of moldy snacks for him to nosh on. It's a perfect metaphor for this unmitigated fiasco. Like its namesake, the excruciatingly unfunny Mortdecai is all too keen to hand us a platter of pungent, overripe cheese to consume. While the race is heating up in the middle of January for which movie will ultimately get the Oscar for Best Film of 2014, it may not be too early to call what will be the worst film of 2015 only two weeks in.
©2015 Vince Leo