Directed by: David Koepp
Premise: A British art dealer (Johnny Depp) is enlisted by Mi5 to find a stolen painting that contains a hidden clue to the location of a stash of gold.
What Works: Mortdecai is a character driven piece and it is led by Johnny Depp in the title role. Although Depp wastes no opportunity to mug for the camera, he is much more energetic and in-character in Mortdecai than he has been in any performance since his first outing as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean. The performance is also impressive in the extent to which Depp refuses to make himself likable. Mortdecai is an arrogant and classist snob and the fact that Depp does not try to win over our sympathies is admirable in its own strange way. Depp is paired with Paul Bettany as Jock, Mortdecai’s manservant. Bettany does not usually get comic parts and he does the deadpan delivery pretty well. Mortdecai was directed by David Koepp who had previously made the cycling film Premium Rush and like that film Mortdecai has some fun graphics when it visualizes the characters’ travels.
What Doesn’t: Although the design of the travel vignettes is impressive, the rest of Mortdecai’s visual style is frequently flat. The film is populated by goofy characters similar to those of a Wes Anderson film but the production design and the cinematography and editing have no style and so the colorful characters don’t have an appropriate background for their adventures. As a result the characters clash with their surroundings and not in a way that is very funny. Mortdecai is in many ways anachronistic. It recalls the movies of a different time and it clearly aspires to the Blake Edwards comedies of the 1960s, namely The Pink Panther and its sequels. Like those films, Mortdecai is intended to be a silly comedy led by a goofy and foolish character. The problem is that those movies haven’t aged very well and so Mortdecai appeals to a sense of humor that no one in today’s audience is bound to get. But even allowing for the movie’s nostalgia, Mortdecai is a dreadful attempt at comedy. The Pink Panther series had a regular helping of physical comedy intermixed with other sorts of gags. Mortdecai has no actual jokes, meaning a gag that has a setup and a payoff. The only thing close to that is a running joke regarding Mortdecai’s moustache but it isn’t that funny to begin with and it’s less funny every time the filmmakers come back to it, which is quite frequently. Mortdecai relies too heavily upon Johnny Depp’s mugging to carry the picture. There’s just nothing else to the movie. The murder mystery of Mortdecai is a mess and it does not make any sense. The story is really just a framework for the comic set pieces but the film doesn’t have any of those, so it loses on both counts. The filmmakers clearly hope that the kooky characters will overcome the lack of a coherent story, as is the case in MASH and The Blues Brothers, but the characters of Mortdecai are uninteresting and frequently irritating. Depp’s character is supported by his wife, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, and a secret agent played by Ewan McGregor. Paltrow and McGregor are capable actors but they’re not given anything to do. The rest of the supporting cast could be interesting if Mortdecai had the whimsical charm of a Wes Anderson or even a Paul Thomas Anderson picture but the filmmakers do not commit to the inherently cartoonish material.
Bottom Line: Mortdecai is a movie in which nothing is done right. It is a blandly made movie with no discernable plot, populated by irritating and uninteresting characters, and it’s a comedy in which nothing is funny.
Episode: #527 (February 1, 2015)