It is to the massive credit of Johnny Depp that he doesn't phone in his performance in Mortdecai, a film adapted by Eric Aronson (On the Line) and directed by David Koepp (Premium Rush) based upon a novel by Kyril Bonfiglioli about a rather questionable art collector by the name of Lord Charlie Mortdecai, a guy whose shady deals would have resulted in his own demise years ago if not for the often hilarious and over-the-top loyalty of his manservant, Jock (Paul Bettany).
We get introduced to Mortdecai long about the same time that Mortdecai introduces his brand new moustache the world, including his quite appalled wife, Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow). The moustache, while certainly unique in its presentation, isn't unique enough to be particularly funny and doesn't quite warrant the starring role it plays in a film that isn't nearly as bad as some are going to have you thinking but also isn't anywhere near as promising as one might hope giving the star talent contained within its cast.
Mortdecai is set for the most part in England, though Mortdecai and assorted characters certainly do their share of globe-hopping. As it turns out, Mortdecai is 8 million pounds in debt to the Queen's coffers and is forced to accept a rather unsavory assignment from Inspector Martland (Ewan McGregor), a Bond-lite type character who also has a penchant for Lady Mortdecai. The assignment involves the tracking down of a missing Goya painting, a painting also desired by the dastardly likes of a terrorist named Strago (Jonny Pasvolsky), an American billionaire named Krampf (Jeff Goldblum), Krampf's nymphomaniac daughter (Olivia Munn), and a host of others who sort of get stuck in a film that can't decide if it wants to be a madcap British comedy, a slapstick, a sort of Pink Panther-fashioned caper comedy, or something else entirely.
Unfortunately, it seems like most of the cast can't decide either.
Depp, who has long been one of Hollywood's most bankable actors but who has been floundering a bit as of late with box-office bummers like The Lone Ranger, Transcendence, and Dark Shadows, certainly gives it the old college try here and he's not so much unwatchable here as he is for the most part not particularly interesting. Depp is decent and there's simply no doubt he's giving it his all here, but a lot of his humor here, both physical and witticisms, lack the rhythm that would really make it work.
As much as I never thought I'd say this, the film's highlight is Paul Bettany as Jock, Mortdecai's manservant and a fiercely and comically loyal man whose sex life is prolific and loyalty is even more prolific. Bettany is clearly enjoying the chance to play comedy here, and his performance possesses all the spark, rhythm, and pacing that Depp's lacks. The same is true for Paltrow, who isn't given a ton to do here but who also clearly understands this type of comedy and makes the most of it. While she and Depp don't possess a believable spark, which given the dynamics of the film actually hurts, Paltrow's immensely fun to watch.
Considering the film has a remarkable lack of rhythm to it, it feels almost ironic that the film's music is contributed by Mark Ronson, of Uptown Funk fame, and Geoff Zanelli. David Koepp has a history of directing big budget blockbusters, but he can't seem to nail things down with this film. Mortdecai feels like it's constantly behind a beat, while the intended zaniness is never zany enough.
There are jokes that work in Mortdecai, sometimes quite well, but it's hard not to think that this is one project that looked a whole lot funnier on paper. I can't help but think that at some point Depp found himself watching the dailies from the film mumbling to himself "What happened?"
As Mortdecai himself is prone to asking throughout the film "Do you think everything will be alright in the end?
Um, no. Actually, it won't.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic