Mortdecai, the latest star vehicle for Johnny Depp, has its charm. It’s quirky. It’s clever. There were certainly moments that had me smiling. Generally, that’s a good thing.
But quirky and clever aren’t the same as funny. Last time I checked people don’t go to the movies to chuckle quietly to themselves at the edge of the theatre.
Mortdecai was adapted from the 1970s comic book anthology of the same name, which is surprising frankly, because the character looks and feels like a slightly upper class version of Austin Powers. Just replace secret agent with art dealer, and you’ll wonder if Mike Myers isn’t out there somewhere complaining that someone stole his bit.
Still, Charlie Mortdecai doesn’t have the same sense of humour as Powers. He’s one of those oblivious types, not because he’s from the past, but because his life of privilege has made him ignorant to just about every type of real world problem. He’s upper class to the extreme, relying mainly on his manservant Jock Strapp (Paul Bettany)—who was almost certainly named by a grade schooler—to keep him out of danger.
In other words, he’s a man child, and a man child that finds himself in quite a bit of debt when we first meet him, owing some $8 million pounds in back taxes to the British government.
Of course, money problems, as they always seem to be in movies, are just an excuse for adventure. Before long, a famous painting is stolen and Mortdecai, a prominent member of the seedy underground art world, is enlisted by MI5 to help track it down. That is, for 10% of the insurance payment.
As expected, the assignment itself ends up being much more than Mortdecai bargains for, and leads him through a variety of locales throughout the world. Overall, the plot is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s interesting in an Indiana Jones searching for the Lost Ark kind of way, but boring in a “where is this going” and “why is that necessary” sort of way.
In the end, the latter takes the forefront. The chase for this painting ends up just being an excuse to take us from one quirky scenario to another, whether it makes sense or not.
Really, it wouldn’t be that egregious a sin for a comedy—plenty of the great ones could fit that description—if only it were funny. But as I said back in the opening, quirky isn’t the same as funny, and no one appears to get that.
That dichotomy seems to be embodied by Depp, who is simultaneously the best thing the movie has going for it and also its biggest problem. For what it’s worth, he’s probably one of the few actors who could really give this character the sort of energy and enthusiasm he needs.
The trouble is, Depp has played this sort of odd duck fellow so many times that fatigue, at least on my part, is starting to set in.
Actor performances are important sure, but it seems like the general consensus among Hollywood execs these days is that all they need to do is let Johnny be Johnny and things will work themselves out.
He just can’t carry the load entirely by himself. I’ll admit, Jock is a pretty great character, and Gwyneth Paltrow has her moments as Mortdecai’s wife Johanna, but the rest of the supporting cast is incredibly forgettable and the script tends to rely on the same bits over and over again.
Yes, charming British accents and weird looking mustaches are great, but they can’t be all you’ve got.
In general, Mortdecai feels like a joke that wasn’t that funny to begin with stretched out just a little too long. Depp is good, the character is clever, but the end result is just plain old average.
Final Score: 2/5