Mark Reviews Movies

Mortdecai

MORTDECAI

 Star (out of 4)

Director: David Koepp

Cast: Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany, Ewan McGregor, Jonny Pasvolsky, Olivia Munn, Michael Culkin, Ulrich Thomsen, Alec Utgoff, Rob de Groot, Guy Burnet, Jeff Goldblum

MPAA Rating: R (for some language and sexual material)

Running Time: 1:46

Release Date: 1/23/15


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Review by Mark Dujsik | January 23, 2015

Mortdecai is the stuff that inspires stipulations in wills, as in, "Have some basic decency on the event of my passing, and don't let people bring up that one movie." On the more positive side of things, it's also one of those movies that will likely be a, if not the, low point for everyone involved, which theoretically means that everyone here only has better things to look forward to in the future of their careers. Even so, this one is going to sting.

In theory, this is a comedy, although the lack of guffaws, chuckles, or even simple smiles tells a completely different story. Everyone here is playing at the laughs, and boy, do they play them. Director David Koepp has assembled a talented cast and apparently gave them free rein to do whatever the hell they wanted.

The movie stars Johnny Depp as a foppish art dealer named Charlie Mortdecai, who has a ridiculous accent, a considerable vocabulary that is mostly lost due to said accent (One of the two times I grinned was when he uses the term "self-defenestrate," which is, admittedly, a pretty low-percentage joke), and a newly-grown mustache that curls at the ends. Koepp and screenwriter Eric Aronson (adapting Kyril Bonfiglioli's novel Don't Point That Thing at Me) seem to believe the concept of the mustache is the be-all and end-all of comedy. If each member of the audience received a dime for every mustache joke here, it would probably cover the cost of a ticket. That might not seem like sizeable sum of money, but it is a lot of mustache jokes.

If the mustache is the pillar of the movie's humor, it's also the anchor of Depp's face. The actor employs so many facial callisthenic exercises over the course of the movie that we start to wonder if he's practicing for a new Mugging event in the upcoming Olympics. Depp's performance gives one the impression that he's imagining an invisible bee buzzing around his head and that he can only use his face to shoo it away from him. It's not so much an example of an actor playing for the balcony as it is a case of an actor's eyebrows playing for the lobby of the theater down the block.

There's plenty of eyebrow acting here, from Depp's manic facial spasms, which go so far as to suggest that the character's relaxed visage is one of complete surprise, to Ewan McGregor's MI5 agent Martland, who's a low-rent James Bond type who flirts with Mortdecai's wife Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow) by punctuating every suggestive line of dialogue with a raised brow. Paltrow comes away mostly unscathed, if only because she's playing for the jokes and not at them. Then again, the primary gag associated with Johanna is a literal gag, in that her husband's mustache induces a gag reflex each and every time they kiss. There's also a sequence that involves mass projectile vomiting, in case the gagging is too highbrow.

There's a plot here, but like the jokes, it's adrift in the over-the-top acting and incoherent sense of humor. After an art restorer is murdered and a Goya painting is stolen, Martland enlists Mortdecai to help in tracking down the thief. The story takes Mortdecai and his faithful, womanizing manservant Jock (Paul Bettany, who also retains an ounce of dignity in spite of his character) through a series of weirdos, played by actors with different silly accents and other grotesque facial tics, from London to Moscow to Los Angeles.

For a while, we suspect the plot doesn't matter, but then the third act has a scene of Mortdecai and Johanna revisiting the details of the mystery. That's when we realize that the plot not only matters but also matters way too much for as little care as Aronson and Koepp afford it. Along the way, Mortdecai gets to show off his casual xenophobia (engaging in sexual role-playing as an Arab sheik and describing himself as "greasy"), homophobia, and all other kinds of bigotry that make the character even less appealing, which is, in a certain way, quite an accomplishment considering everything else.

At a certain point, it starts to feel like it would be an insult to say the cast and the filmmakers are trying. That would imply effort, and if this movie is the result, the work is not only in vain but also downright abysmal. One gets the distinct impression that everyone in and involved with Mortdecai is faking it as hard as they can. That's putting it as kindly as possible.

Copyright 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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