Mortdecai lacks the wit and charm that would’ve been necessary for this farcical pastiche to work, resulting in another disappointment from Johnny Depp.
Mortdecai stars Johnny Depp as Charlie Mortdecai, a somewhat infamous British art dealer who’s facing crises both professional and personal in nature. Charlie is not only massively in debt to the British government, but some of his more unscrupulous (and dangerous) clients have caught onto his swindling ways. Meanwhile, back at home, Charlie finds himself on the outs with his wife Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow), who doesn’t take so well to her husband’s newly-acquired handlebar mustache… and banishes him to the guest house, when he refuses to shave his peculiar facial hair.
As such, when Inspector Martland (Ewan McGregor) – Charlie’s college roommate who still yearns for Johanna – seeks his assistance in recovering a rare Goya painting that’s been stolen (and may contain secret valuable information), Charlie agrees in the hope of bettering his own circumstances. However, by doing so, Charlie, Johanna, and their loyal manservant Jock (Paul Bettany) find themselves running around the globe, as they get tangled in a complicated scheme that involves international terrorists, violent Russians, and sex-crazed Americans – among other things.
Based on author Kyril Bonfiglioli’s 1973 Charlie Mortdecai novel “Don’t Point that Thing at Me”, Mortdecai is a crime/caper throwback that brings the Mortdecai character to life on the big screen in a modern-day setting – which is one of several miscalculations committed on the part of the filmmakers involved here, unfortunately. Mortdecai lacks the wit and charm that would’ve been necessary for this farcical pastiche to work, resulting in another disappointment from Johnny Depp.
Mortdecai director David Koepp (who also collaborated with Depp on the film Secret Window) avoids letting the pace drag through the movie, and he’s generally successful at keeping the jokes flying at a brisk pace – it’s too bad most of them miss their mark, though. Indeed, Mortdecai is an often strange mixture of humor, blending inoffensive comical irreverence that recalls the Steven Martin Pink Panther movies from the 2000s (which are caper throwback similar to Mortdecai) with decidedly more adult gags and raunchy material that tends to be more crass than clever.
The Mortdecai script by relative newcomer Eric Aronson offers a caper storyline that’s tight enough in its construction to serve the film’s purposes, with its “heart” meant to come from Charlie’s relationships with Johanna and Jock. Ultimately, the Charlie/Jock bromance works better than the Charlie/Johanna romance, since Depp and Paltrow have little/no screen chemistry. It also doesn’t help that, of all the eccentric characters played by Depp over the years, Charlie Mortdecai is the one that feels the most like a collection of quirky mannerisms and little else. It’s a pretty soulless performance from Depp, for that reason.
Mortdecai, on the whole, also tends to be unnecessarily mean-spirited and backwards with its satire – in part because the Mortdecai characters themselves feel like they’ve been lifted straight from the ’70s and dumped in the present, with little self-awareness on the part of the filmmakers. Koepp doesn’t seem to know how to bring this world to life either, relying on stylized techniques that worked better in his past movies (for example, the use of map graphics as a transitionary device when characters travel a la Premium Rush), but here feel out of place. The film’s many comedic set pieces and overall visual style is likewise not terrible, but pretty uninspired at that same time.
Depp, as mentioned before, does his now familiar oddball shtick, yet doesn’t bring the substance needed to make Mortdecai a likably annoying protagonist worth rooting for. Paltrow, by comparison, works better as the posh and independent Johanna, as does Bettany as the usually unshakeable (and often promiscuous) Jock. Both of them do fine work, whenever they’re not sidelined by Depp’s scenery-chewing – but the latter ends up happening, more often than not.
Ewan McGregor plays the straight-man in the Mortdecai ensemble, but he handles the task well enough – though, his character isn’t all that memorable, either. The film’s supporting cast includes Jeff Goldblum (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Olivia Munn (The Newsroom), and Ulrich Thomsen (Banshee), but their roles are pretty throwaway and could’ve easily been played just as well by lesser-known talents.
Mortdecai, by the time the end credits start rolling, feels like not just a waste of source material, but also a talented cast to boot. Sadly, it’s another misstep for Johnny Depp (who also served as a producer on the film) and another signal that he really needs to mix things up more in the future. As for the paying moviegoing public, it’s fine to wait and catch this one at home… and hope that maybe next time, Depp will get his groove back.
Mortdecai is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is 106 minutes long and is Rated R for some language and sexual material.