After seeing Into the Woods, I made the official decision that I was “over” Johnny Depp. Having been a fan of the original 21 Jump Street back in the 80s, I took it a bit personally when he self-sabotaged his way off that TV show. He prefers to create carefully crafted, eccentric characters that he can disappear into during the course of telling a story. That is why his partnership with Tim Burton has worked well (or at least worked). In the 12 years since the first Pirates movie (yes, it’s been 12 years!), he’s made some questionable choices, and the movies have ranged from weird (at best – Rango and Sweeny Todd), to horrible (at worst – and there’s almost too many to list here, but let’s go with Transcendence, The Tourist, Alice in Wonderland, and Lone Ranger). He still has legions of fans, and he has done movies that I loved (Chocolat, Ninth Gate, and Don Juan Demarco), but those were a long time ago. He also really lost my respect when he blamed the failure of the Lone Ranger on “bad press”. No Johnny – the movie failed because it was bad, not because it got bad press.
Apparently, the inspiration for the movie Mortdecai is a series of comic thriller novels written by English author Kyril Bonfiglioli. The series contains the adventures of an aristocratic art dealer named Charlie Mortdecai, who is accompanied by Jock, his manservant. The books are “Don’t Point that Thing At Me”, “Something Nasty In The Woodshed”, “After You With A Pistol”, and “The Great Moustache Mystery”. First publisher in the 1970s – they have apparently gained cult status.
This particular movie is based mostly on the book “Don’t Point That Thing At Me”, in which Mortdecai is pursued by police, after being charged with the theft of a priceless Goya painting.
The Movie Mortdecai starts off with Charlie Mortdecai in Hong Kong, selling a vase to some generic Chinese gangsters. The gangsters however, are upset at having been stiffed on their last deal with Mortdecai, and decide to keep the vase, the money, and attempt to keep one of his fingers as well. He is rescued by his manservant Jock and they head home to the English countryside where Mortdecai is very excited to show his wife Johanna his new mustache, which he has grown because “all the Mortdecai men have had them”. After attempting to kiss him with the mustache (leading to the first of several running “jokes” in the movie) she gags – causing his sensitive gag reflex to kick in, then decides to sleep in one of the guest rooms until he shaves it.
Mortdecai then receives a visit from his college friend Martland, who now works for MI-5, occasionally comes to Charlie for help with art issues, and is in love with Johanna. A woman who was working on restoring a Goya painting has been murdered, and the painting stolen. Martland believes it was stolen by an international terrorist named Emil, who will use the secretly scrawled old Nazi bank accounts on the back to get a lost fortune that will fund his terrorist activities. Mortdecai and Jock then head to visit one of their contacts to inquire about the painting, which introduces the second running “joke” – Jock has a lot of sex. Seriously – that’s the joke. Also - Jock's last name is Strapp - although, thankfully, this is never mentioned in the movie. In this case, he has slept with a local farmer’s daughter, who then comes after them with a shotgun.
Jock and Charlie stumble into a sequence with Russian gangsters (one of which is very excited to electrocute Charlie’s nether region as torture – which becomes another running joke of the one Russian just saying “balls” over and over again). While they are doing that, Johanna begins her own investigation – but for the life of me, I cannot figure out why. She actually makes a little more progress than the police or Mortdecai. Charlie and Jock get back from Russia, and Charlie is eager to see Johanna, but Martland intercepts him. Hoping to spend more alone time with Johanna, Martland encourages Charlie and Jock to immediately leave for Los Angeles as they were heading there anyway to sell a Rolls Royce to one of Charlie’s clients, Krampf – who apparently has a nymphomaniac daughter named Georgina. At this point, I could not tell if that was supposed to be another joke, or just a character trait. Krampf is happy to get the car, and promptly pulls the painting out of it. Krampf then throws a party, during which Jock and Charlie attempt to steal the painting back, but are thwarted by Emil and Georgina (who are apparently in love). Emil sprinkles all the seafood with a liquid that gives everyone food poisoning to create a distraction. There’s a bit of a chase, during which Martland and Johanna both show up in L.A., and the painting is destroyed. On returning home to England, Charlie and Johanna hatch a plot to get the real painting (the destroyed one was fake), then let everyone know they have it – then catch everyone red-handed at an art auction.
Okay, if that sounds crazy – you’re right. And honestly, the plot is not bad, and could have made a decent movie. There will be a lot of people comparing this to old Pink Panther movies, and while it’s not nearly that good (not at all nearly), that’s a good comparison of the zany plot and storylines. There are a lot of really quirky characters, and while that should have made for a really strong comedy – I just felt like it was too uneven and had too many holes. Director David Koepp (who is from Pewaukee, Wisconsin) has worked with Johnny Depp before, on Secret Window. He does a good job of directing the nonsense in this movie. It looks great - I loved the transitions from city to city, I thought they were cleverly done, and visually interesting. As with all book translations – I can’t help but wonder if some of the issues I had were due to character quirks from the book?
- This movie is absolutely a Johnny Depp movie. He completely commits to Mortdecai, which I suppose is something, but I was a little confused about the character. I feel like he should be either an eccentric art dealer, or a bumbling buffoon, but he seems to be way too much of both. He does know the art world, and is very knowledgeable in his career, but why then is he so infantile in his interactions with his wife, what is the deal with his pouty obsession with that mustache, and why are they going broke? Mortdecai comes off as a whining, sniveling, child-like moron who also knows a lot about art. I’ll let you come up with your own analysis of the accent.
- Gwyneth Paltrow plays Johanna, and I couldn’t tell if she was playing her as disdainful and manipulative, or if that is simply Gwyneth coming through the performance. I did not buy Johanna’s relationship with Charlie at all, and really expected her at any moment to announce she was the villain and was only with him with for the money (which he no longer had).
- Every time I see Paul Bettany in a Johnny Depp movie (Transcendence, The Tourist), I keep thinking that he should be better than this - but now, after the third outing, maybe I’m wrong. His portrayal of Jock Strapp is over-the-top, but I guess that fits this movie? The running “joke” that Charlie has accidentally shot Jock on multiple occasions (he does it at least three times in this movie) is not funny, and makes it even more perplexing as to why Jock is still completely devoted to and protective of Charlie. He is always willing to take a beating, wrestle a dog, get shot, get hit by a car, and have his multiple sexual encounters interrupted. There is one scene where Charlie encounters the Chinese gangsters about to remove Jock’s finger and was sneaking away until Jock spots him – Charlie explains that he’s too afraid to help, and Jock seems to have no problem with that (“I’ve got nine others, sir.”). Charlie does find some ounce of courage and saves Jock from the gangsters. It should have been a great moment of redemption, but I found it annoyingly too little, too late.
- Ewan McGregor plays Martland, and seems to be recycling the character he played in Jack the Giant Slayer. He’s all business, until Johanna appears, then he completely loses his mind and allows her to manipulate him into drinking on the job and giving away information. McGregor, like Bettany, does a fine job with what is there, it’s just that what is there is so irritating it’s difficult to deal with.
- Olivia Munn plays the nymphomaniac, Georgina. Within 15 minutes of meeting Mortdecai, she’s insisting he fondle her on her father’s front yard. By that point in the movie – did I mention that it’s over two hours? – I couldn’t tell if that was funny anymore. She and Jonny Pasvolsky, who plays Emil, have zero chemistry as well, but they are barely together, so I suppose that doesn’t matter.
- Jeff Goldblum plays her father, the American art collector Krampf who secretly has Mortdecai smuggle the painting to him. He basically plays himself, was really entertaining, and was in the movie far too little.
Overall – a really capable cast in a really terrible movie. The central characters seemed to be going for a 60s or 70s vibe, so the modern setting makes no sense, and comes off a bit jarring. I found the rating a little perplexing as well. It’s rated R – but felt like a PG13 movie, the violence was off screen and there was no blood, there is only one use of the F-word in the movie, no nudity, and every other time it could have been used - there are the sharp comedic cuts away, like in a PG13. Perhaps if it had gone a little harder into the R, it would have at least had a more consistent tone? I don’t have any other suggestions on what would have made it better. Certainly it could have been shorter, and certainly the tone could have been more even across the board, and certainly it could have been a little more grown-up (laugh uproariously as Charlie attempts to serve really old cheese to Martland!). If everyone had been doing their character at the same level of over-the-top that Depp was, it may have been more even. If you really enjoy Johnny Depp doing weird characters, and you don’t mind really silly, poorly-put together comedy – check this out.
4 out of 10. Gained points for Jeff Goldblum, the city transitions, and for what could have been an interesting plot. Lost points for Paltrow’s performance, for the characters in general, and for the running gags that weren’t funny. Also – lost points for that mustache and the weird tooth gap, but I think that is the point of the mustache – so nevermind on that one.
Bonus Video 1; The Tourist – easily one of the worst movies I have ever seen – called a “comedy” by the Golden Globes, and featuring Depp and Bettany again.
Bonus Video 2: The Thomas Crown Affair – if you want a really quality art heist flick – rewatch this.
Bonus Video 3: The original Shot in the Dark – Peter Sellers at his best.
Bonus Video 4: Cast Interviews: