WRITTEN REVIEW – Mortdecai (2015)
Directed by: David Koepp
Written by: Eric Aronson
Starring: Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ewan McGregor & Paul Bettany
Music: Mark Ronson & Geoff Zanelli
Release Date: January 23rd 2015
Oh Johnny Johnny Johnny. I love you, man. But you have made it very difficult to do so recently. While I was initially sceptical of you (once again) donning lots of make-up, a stupid hat and manic facial expressions in Disney’s ‘Into The Woods‘, you were a scene-stealer. But last year, you lost a lot of good faith in your cash-grab, phoned-in performances in ‘Transcendence‘ and ‘Tusk‘ After receiving a lot of good-will for your portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow in ‘The Pirates of the Caribbean‘ franchise, including an Oscar-Nomination (people often forget that, but yes, Johnny Depp was Oscar-nominated for that role), you flushed it down the drain with the same schtick in ‘Charlie & The Chocolate Factory‘, ‘Alice in Wonderland‘ and ‘The Lone Ranger‘.
Now, with ‘Mortdecai‘, based off the anthology book “Don’t Point That Thing at Me” by Kyril Bonfiglioli, Depp along with ‘Premium Rush‘ director David Koepp are banking on Depp’s-insufferable on-screen persona once again. Will a brand-new moustache and a great, accomplished cast win the day or is it time to put away the make-up kit?
Lord Charlie Mortdecai (Depp) is a connoisseur of art and an illegal dealer who finds himself on the verge of bankruptcy with his wife Johanna (Paltrow) and his nymphomaniac manservant, Jock Strapp (Bettany). However, a solution to his financial woes comes along when Inspector Martland (McGregor) arrives at his door asking Mortdecai to retrieve a valuable stolen painting as the money gained from the portrait could be used to fund terrorism. Mortdecai, along with Jock Strapp travel the world to discover the whereabouts of the painting, uncover the mysteries surrounding it as well as find a way to profit from the ordeal.
The main issue with ‘Mortdecai‘ is the character of Mortdecai himself. Distributor Lionsgate have big plans in the way of sequels as they’d like Mortdecai to be an Austin Powers for a new generation. However, the audience are given no discernible reason to root for the main character. With Austin Powers in ‘Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery‘, he had been frozen for 30 years, so when he woke up displaced and out-of-time, his sexist attitudes were deliberately out-of-place. It made sense for Austin to act like that in his movie’s universe and the audience were frequently laughing AT him and not always WITH him. For Mortdecai, his attitude isn’t given a spin like that. He’s just a pompous, egotistical person and the only reason Inspector Martland comes to him for help is because Mortdecai has contacts in the black market full of illegal art smugglers.
Why should the audience care whether or not Mortdecai winds up bankrupt? Why should we want him to save his marriage? It seems that neither him or Johanna are invested in the relationship so why should the audience? Also, a running-gag is that Mortdecai’s moustache is something he’s only just grown before the movie starts and Johanna is repulsed by it, so the two are no longer physically intimate. Mortdecai insists that he keep it because all his ancestors had one…except the audience are given no visual reference to know if that’s actually the case, so it just makes Mortdecai appear very petty since he won’t shave it off to save his moribund marriage.
The main reason to root for Mortdecai is because of the harm that could be caused if the painting he’s after falls into the hands of terrorists, but the audience are given so little in the way of context, consequence or the capabilities of the terrorists involved that it’s easy to completely forget that as Mortdecai travels the world and gets into elaborate scenarios.
While the globe-hopping nature of ‘Mortdecai‘ is greatly appreciated, it’s only in the second half where Mortdecai travels to Los Angeles and is out of his comfort zone where the movie starts to mine the comedy-goldmine, particularly sequences of Mortdecai in a spa/hotel. When he’s back at home in London, he’s essentially interacting with other cartoon characters which makes the overall tone of the movie very inconsistent, including one scene where Paul Whitehouse (who is a very VERY funny actor) shows up as a cartoonish car-dealer who, despite playing up the melodrama, doesn’t get a single funny moment.
Simply put, ‘Mordecai‘ just isn’t that funny. Despite the cartoony nature of the performances, the jokes don’t come fast enough leaving many scenes feeling like dead-weight. At 106 minutes, ‘Mortdecai‘ could have benefited from a 90-minute runtime as that’s often the sweet-spot for comedies but in its current form, ‘Mortdecai‘ feels over 2-hours indicating that it’s been edited poorly. That’s a shame as well, because director David Koepp’s last directorial effort, ‘Premium Rush‘, was a tight, exhilarating 92 minutes. But there’s too much bloat to ‘Mortdecai‘ and scenes frequently out-stay their welcome. However, despite the lack of jokes there is the occasional gem such as Mortdecai’s genuinely impressive attempt at an insult towards the end of the film;
“Your mother and father only met once. And money exchanged hands.”
As for the performances, despite Johnny Depp becoming grating in recent years with his comic-persona, he does well as Mortdecai. Even if there’s no reason to root for the character, you can’t deny that Depp is committed to the role. He’s a method-actor at heart and his physicality and voice give Mortdecai a lot of personality. If this wasn’t Johnny Depp in the role, the actor playing the role would probably be given heaps of praise. But because the actor has far surpassed the roles that he’s played in terms of public-awareness, it just feels like Depp is playing a silly character again rather than actually playing a character.
The rest of the cast members fare much better with Gwyneth Paltrow doing wonders with the role of a confident, manipulative woman who is the real brains of the operation and Ewan McGregor as the humble detective who is completely smitten with her. The two have great interplay with each other and one of the funniest scenes of the movie is simply the two actors going toe-to-toe with each other in a small cafe. Despite the lacklustre writing, the two more than make up for it with great chemistry. Paul Bettany is also memorable playing against-type as the brutish, unfathomably loyal Jock Strapp. Bettany gets most of the best sight-gags in the movie although the recurring joke of him somehow managing to bed almost every woman he meets doesn’t have a single worthwhile pay-off (for the audience, at least. I’m sure Jock had a great pay-off). You’d think that the pay-off would involve Olivia Munn’s also-nymphomaniac character, but this never actually transpired.
Speaking of prolonged sex, there’s no reason for this movie to be rated 15. There’s frequent harsh-language but the scenes aren’t enhanced by this with the exception of one f-bomb delivered by Paul Bettany (and a 12A movie can get away with one f-bomb) and the sex-gags don’t serve much of a purpose. It doesn’t feel like a comedy for adults as much as it feels like adults just acting childish.
The whole enterprise at least looks pretty. Sets are lavish, the globe-hopping plot gives the movie a nice variety of locales and the costumes are well designed allowing the colours on-screen to truly pop. The animation that plays during travel sequences is a nice touch as well, as it’s also a nice callback to ‘Premium Rush‘ which used a similar, stylised approach. However, the polar-opposite of ‘Premium Rush‘ (sorry to continue calling back to that movie, but it was David Koepp’s last film and it makes for a good comparison), the frequent vehicle chases are completely lifeless. There’s no sense of speed, immediacy, the sound design is limp and while the stunt-work is decent, they’re not filmed particularly well. The music also feels weak as there’s not a single memorable tune to be found in the film’s score.
‘Mortdecai‘ isn’t a complete disaster as it’s held together by a strong, committed cast, production values (sans the music and the action scenes) as well as a couple of decent gags. But on the whole, ‘Mortdecai‘ just doesn’t have the rhythm, pace or enough energy to sustain itself at over 100 minutes. Not to mention the fact that there’s simply no good reason to care or root for the main character. Honestly, I cannot recount the plot to you because it’s so complex, yet so far in the background that the movie just becomes an exercise in how many times you can check your watch.
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Posted: 28th Jan 15