You ever have that one movie you see trailers for and think “Hmm. That looks forgettable, but kind of fun”, but then find yourself surprised by the actual movie’s heated critical hatred?
That was me in the case of David Koepp’s caper-comedy Mortdecai. When I initially saw trailers for it, I thought it looked like a cute, harmless time waster, so you can imagine how curious the comparatively scrutinizing reviews for this film made me.
So, to satisfy my curiosity, I rented the movie. Despite my initial hopes for an enjoyable diversion, never could I have imagined this movie being such a catastrophic error of judgment by all involved parties. Sadly, that’s exactly what Mortdecai turns out to be; a movie as unruly and ghastly as the main character’s moustache.
Johnny Depp is an actor I’ve long loved, but he’s quickly turned from being a once effective chameleon to becoming a go-to clown willing to don silly facial cosmetics and cartoonish accents (Jack Sparrow, Willy Wonka, The Mad Hatter, Barnabas Collins, Tonto, the Big Bad Wolf, just to name a few). While I’ve enjoyed several of these turns, including and especially Jack Sparrow, Mortdecai proves to be the man’s most insufferable foray into that gimmicky acting style yet. Attempting to bring some liveliness into Eric Aronson’s otherwise busy and sluggish screenplay, Depp ends up doing the most incessant amount of mugging and comical blabbering he’s ever done, and while he intends for it to be endearing, it instead comes across as smug and self-serving, highlighting his obvious boredom with the material. It pains me to be this harsh because Depp can be a fantastic comedian, but he struggles to elicit even one tiny chuckle. He has several recurring gags trying to boost him, including his obsession with his moustache, his drunken and womanizing episodes, and his “sympathy gag” reflex, and all of them are not funny. He also seems to want to breeze through this disaster as fast as he can as well, since he practically mumbles most of his lines in the film, which combined with his erratic posh accent makes half of his dialogue difficult to understand without the aid of subtitles. Said grating accent quickly wears its novelty out as well, especially considering that the man serves as our narrator. Simply put, I feel no hesitation in calling it the worst performance of his career.
Even a supporting cast of rock solid performers fail to mask the faults of the film. There is some momentary enjoyment to be had with Paul Bettany as Mortdecai’s personal bodyguard, and he was admittedly able to make me legitimately laugh several times, but even his character quickly becomes stale, suffering from his own annoying recurring jokes. One requires him to be Mortdecai’s unintentional punching bag, including several instances of getting shot by his own employer, and the other sees him frequently engaging in casual sex with various women that adds absolutely nothing to the film. I haven’t seen The Tourist or Transcendence, both of which featured Depp and Bettany as well, but maybe these two shouldn’t be working together. Topped off with Gwyneth Paltrow as an insufferably flat romantic foil, Ewan McGregor’s headstrong inspector that acts as Mortdecai’s romantic rival, and Olivia Munn as a useless villain with a sex addiction (an element dropped as quickly as its established, making you wonder why it was necessary to mention at all), and you have the ultimate in comic desperation.
That’s when the film even remembers to include any jokes, as the film moves into an aggressively convoluted third act that eventually gives way to an undercurrent of real threat and violence. Mortdecai often strives to achieve just the right balance of dark comedy, but never once does it manage to accomplish that, with its jokes typically in bad and stale taste. The script is some incoherent nonsense, with several subplots and characters fighting for attention, the film’s focus spread incredibly thin, and leaving the editing in utter disrepair. The film could have made for a fun, if unspectacular caper with a more narrowed focus and simpler, leaner script, but it’s ridiculous piling on of interweaving plot threads, as well as ill conceived twists that make it look like they were made up on the spot, feels like the product of the filmmakers trying to fool audiences into thinking their film is smarter than it actually is.
That’s not to say I think less of Depp, and I do think he’s still capable of turning in great performances, but Mortdecai is the ultimate example of an actor using all of his gifts for all of the wrong reasons. 2015 may turn in some outright awful performances, but for my money, I don’t think any of them will be able to crash and burn this spectacularly. Maybe Depp should give the quirky turns and heavy makeup a rest for a while...
* / *****