Well, bless that Johnny Depp, that American chap who has done it again. He has invented another roguish, quirky character that will undoubtedly last the ages, or at least the span of one of his movie trailers.
Note: there’s an affectation to the voice that Depp employs in Mortdecai that is somewhat infectious and difficult to retract even once the film is over. It’s not British but instead ‘British-ish,’ the kind of accent that American actors push onto audience’s ears when they have to pretend to be that nationality. They say, “I do say” and walk with a straight back and talk about sandwiches.
Depp, as talented at character creation as he might be, was born in Kentucky, and he sounds like someone from Kentucky pretending really, really hard to sound British. In this movie, he’s married to Johanna, played by Los Angeles-born Gwyneth Paltrow, who makes a grand return of the British accent she won an Oscar with for Shakespeare in Love.
He’s a deliriously goofy art history expert on the verge of financial insolvency. An art restorer was just murdered and so Inspector Martland (Ewan McGregor) from MI5 enlists him to help solve the case in exchange for helping him to get out of debt. It turns out that it’s far more elaborate than he expected and leads him to bounce all over Europe with a stop in L.A. With every bumbling misstep he takes, there’s his manservant-slash-muscle Jock (Paul Bettany, who actually is British) there to help extricate him and set him right again.
Meanwhile, Johanna is left back at the mansion with nothing to do so she goes about trying to solve the case with Martland as he struggles with his unrequited love or lust for her.
Oh, did I mention Mortdecai’s moustache? So much is made of the caterpillar on his lip that it becomes a major plot point.
To be honest, I liked the characters enough and I liked the script enough and I liked the story… mostly. I would have preferred the characters in skits rather than a two-hour nonsense comedy that should have more laugh-out-loud funny moments rather than funny moments that simply make you smile or smirk because they’re oh so terribly clever.
Mostly, Mortdecai drags along like a limp noodle because of director David Koepp, who is a much better writer than anything. Perhaps he’s gotten tired of one game and is trying to make his name in this game. But he’s just going through the motions, setting all of those pieces – actors, characters, script – like he’s checking off a list but that doesn’t give this movie any real flair, any joie de vivre. It feels kinda like we’re watching a read-through or a dress rehearsal at best: everyone has their costumes on but they’re just trying too hard and the director doesn’t know how to tell them to pull back a bit so that the characters feel more natural.
As an overview, the story seems like it wanted to be about a playful spy character who bandies about while foiling an international plot of some sort. It’s basically the kid brother of Austin Powers who always wanted to prove himself but still doesn’t quite fit the shoes. Instead, he trips a lot and we’re sitting there forced to watch him do so, and then politely tell him at the end of it that he was quite droll. Indeed.
Starring Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ewan McGregor, Paul Bettany, Olivia Munn and Jeff Goldblum
Directed by David Koepp
Written by Eric Aronson
Rated PG for coarse language and crude content
Runtime: 107 minutes
Now playing at Cineplex Odeon North Edmonton and Scotiabank Theatre