Mortdecai (2015) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Mortdecai (2015)

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Sporting a dashing new mustache, international ne'er-do-well Mortdecai is summoned to help in the investigation of a stolen painting.  Will Mortdecai's scandalous reputation give the investigation the underground credibility it needs to succeed, or is Mortdecai more bluster than he lets on?  David Koepp directs Mortdecai from a script written by Eric Aronson and stars Johnny Depp.

Here's a jolly good timeThere are worse movies to watch in 2015 but it’s unlikely any will be as inessential as Mortdecai. So dull is Mortdecai that its existence becomes less of a bother and more of a mystery. Who, in their right mind, thought that a full-on manic Johnny Depp performance would work in a barely risqué R-rated comedy? I imagine Mortdecai is what you’d get if someone decided to remake Son of the Pink Panther over a weekend with dutiful, if slumming, performers.

In fairness, there’s a solid idea at the core of Mortdecai which should be explored in a better, less manic comedy. Depp has become a caricature of himself over the years and the novelty he once brought to his outsider performances in films like Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood has become as routine as the multi-million dollar blockbusters which bear his name. If anyone needs to have the piss taken out of their now-mundane “eccentricities” it’s Depp, and Mortdecai plays up this idea by having its title character the butt of everyone’s joke instead delivering them.

There are a few decent visual jokes, like this image of a Mortdecai aghast at the facial hair around him while giving his own mustache a pass.

There are a few decent gags, like this image of Mortdecai aghast at the facial hair around him while giving his own mustache a pass.

Those mild successes come primarily from Gwyneth Paltrow and Ewan McGregor. Respectively, they play Mortdecai’s (Depp) wife Johanna and old college frenemy Inspector Alistar who both maintain an adversarial relationship with the titular rogue. Their gentle back-and-forths with Depp are worth a couple of chuckles. One chuckle comes from Mortdecai’s interior monologue at Inspector Alistar’s inability to tell the difference between one exquisite red wine and another, and Mortdecai’s absolute insistence to Johanna that his mustache makes him irresistible to women.

Depp’s flustered bravado in the face of such indifference from Paltrow and McGregor makes a nice counterpoint to the latter pair’s easy chemistry. Paltrow and McGregor are so charming together than their collective gravity threatens to condense into a smaller, better, film and escape the orbit of Mortdecai. Alas, this is not to be, and the simple joys of their banter fail to redeem the rest of the flat comedy of Mortdecai.

The charm does not extend to laughless moments like the introduction of Paul Bettany’s character Jock Strapp. His gig, hinted at slightly via his name, is that he just can’t stop sleeping with women no matter what mess Mortdecai is in. Bettany approaches this with the same mirthless determination he’s approached many of his roles in the last few years and there isn’t much joy to be mined from the poor sex jokes his name and proclivities suggest. Jeff Goldblum, another performer who should be used better, doesn’t even get any dry jokes or odd beats to hit with his miniscule screen time. Then there’s Olivia Munn, who’s an awfully good sport considering her role consists entirely of being turned on by Mortdecai’s terrible mustache.

Mortdecai’s flirtation with ribald humor barely rises to annoying, let alone dirty. It’s so tame that the R-rating which it was slapped with comes as another surprise. Everyone who’s not in a lead role is basically going through the motions, with extras and bit-players forced to adopt embarrassingly bad accents as generic foreign baddies. Director David Koepp’s primary trade is screenwriting, but he does a good enough job with cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister at creating a faux-sheen over the precedings which match Mortdecai’s false confidence. A dramatic cutaway to Russian architecture is just over-the-top enough to amuse in a way the actual Russian villains fail to.

Unless the resulting punchline results in laughter so strong I would get a herniated disc, all jokes involving a woman enthusiastically begging a man to grope her for whatever reason should be muzzled at conception.

Unless the resulting punchline results in laughter so strong I would get a herniated disc, all jokes involving a woman enthusiastically begging a man to grope her for whatever reason should be muzzled at conception.

Finally, there’s Depp, who seems to be trying to blow up his reputation based on recent roles. He had fun poking at his past “serious” television work with 21 Jump Street, then turned in a performance so terrible in Tusk that it almost deserves a special reward for notoriety. Depp’s performance in Mortdecai is, strangely enough, energetic but not obnoxious enough. The film barely gains interest as a bit of meta-analysis of the last decade or so of Depp’s career, but his Mortdecai is more of an mild pest than a constant annoyance. Aside from 21 Jump Street, Depp hasn’t been in a good film for some time, but these diversions hint he is tiring of the cartoonish schtick he’s been stuck in for some time.

The mild curiosities and rare amusements of Mortdecai are not enough to save it from obscurity. Truth be told, I had to think long and hard about what worth could be salvaged from the fallow comedy on display.  If Depp really wants to change his screen presence I hope he appears in something which really salts the earth.  The pessimist in me can't resist the urge to consider his recent performances and think the worst is yet to come.

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Tail - MortdecaiMortdecai (2015)

Directed by David Koepp.
Screenplay written by Eric Aronson.
Starring Johnny Depp, Ewan McGregor, and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Posted by Andrew

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