Oh the dismal depths to which Johnny Depp has sunk. The actor’s latest misfire, in which he plays a degenerate and nearly broke art dealer who dabbles in the black market, is an abysmal would-be comedy that sees the quickly falling star delivering a performance that’s as hammy and unfunny as it is dull and embarrassing. Someone, perhaps his manager or agent, should stage a career intervention ASAP.
Mortdecai, based on Kyril Bonfiglioli’s irreverent 1973 novel Don’t Point That Thing at Me, is a dud from the get-go. The first scene, set in an upscale restaurant where Mortdecai attempts to unload a supposedly priceless vase on a suspicious thug and his henchmen, tries to achieve the same kind of comic, adventurous spirit that Steven Spielberg brought to the opening of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, in which chaos and gunfire erupt in a nightclub. But director David Koepp, who wrote or co-wrote War of the Worlds, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and the first two Jurassic Park movies for Spielberg, is, unfortunately, no Spielberg. The scene fails to produce any laughs or thrills, and falls as flat as Depp’s late-stage career. Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from there.
So, what is this mess of a movie about? Mortdecai is hired by an MI5 agent (a miscast Ewan McGregor) who is not-so-secretly in love with his gorgeous wife Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow) to find a stolen Goya painting before it lands in the hands of a known terrorist, who will use it to fund his evil endeavors. Mortdecai accepts the mission; frankly, he has to, because the agent is aware of his dirty dealings in the art world and will prosecute him on a number of charges if he declines. But Mortdecai believes there is an invaluable secret hidden on the reverse side of the Goya, and it will make him rich again and bring an end to his financial woes. From there the story jets off to London, Moscow, and Los Angeles in an effort to find the missing masterwork and create silly mayhem along the way, but not a single laugh or chuckle is found. It’s not for want of trying: The movie tirelessly trots out three different running gags in an attempt to get viewers to laugh. The first and least funny focuses on Mortdecai’s newly grown mustache, which makes Johanna gag whenever she kisses him. The second involves Mortdecai’s inept handling of firearms, which continually end in his loyal manservant and bodyguard Jock Strapp (clever, huh?) being shot. The third revolves around Jock’s insatiable sexual appetite.
Mortdecai desperately tries to invoke the same kind of light, breezy tone that the Pink Panther movies achieved with seemingly effortless flare. But those films were anchored by the brilliant Peter Sellers, a comic genius, and directed by Blake Edwards, who knew a thing or two about cinematic comedy.
Suffice it to say that the missing Goya painting is eventually found and terrorism is averted. But the bigger mysteries raised by the movie are left unanswered. Among those questions: Is Johnny Depp capable of headlining another decent film whose title doesn’t begin with “Pirates”? What did David Koepp, who also helped write Spider-Man and Mission: Impossible, see in Eric Aronson’s laugh-free script that made him want to direct it? And why is Mortdecai rated R? It isn’t vulgar, violent, or filled with profanity. With a couple of minor trims the movie could easily have been rated PG-13, and thus might have attracted a family audience. As it stands now, families will stay away and the picture isn’t raunchy enough to attract older teens or young adults. It’s a missed opportunity on all fronts.
Mortdecai is for die-hard Johnny Depp fans only, if there are any left—but even they would be wise to avoid this disaster.