Mortdecai Directed by David Koepp (R)

February 3, 2015

Johnny Depp’s career has been erratic lately, but he keeps plugging away between Pirates of the Caribbean sequels. Mortdecai is his most indulgent effort, gifting himself an opportunity to make a Peter Sellers movie, or perhaps an Austin Powers sequel.


Based on the novels by Kyril Bonfiglioli, Mortdecai requires Depp to transform himself once again into a wobbly British boob, while director David Koepp busies himself with slapstick set-pieces that mostly work, if one is in the proper mood for them.

 

Photo courtesy of Lionsgate

Mortdecai includes the most enjoyable regurgitation scene of 2015, though to be fair, I don’t know what Star Wars has planned.


A troubled art dealer and part-time scam artist, Charlie Mortdecai (Johnny Depp) is facing the end of the good life, with possible bankruptcy threatening to take away his lavish lifestyle.


Trying to downplay concerns from wife Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow), Charlie accepts a mission from MI5 Inspector Martland (Ewan McGregor), who’s also a former college classmate and great admirer of Johanna.


Tasked with retrieving a stolen Goya painting with a code to a safe filled with Nazi gold scribbled on the back, Charlie reluctantly takes the case, joined by his loyal manservant, Jock (Paul Bettany).


Depp and Koepp aren’t strangers, previously working together on the Stephen King adaptation, Secret Window. The pair now returns with Mortdecai, which is about as silly as a movie can get.


Used to crafting humorless entertainment (Premium Rush, Ghost Town), Koepp sets out to create a European farce here, pulling inspiration from cheeky productions of the 1960s, which isn’t an easy trick.


The screenplay by Eric Aronson has the right idea, constructing setbacks and confrontations for Charlie that make good use of his spinelessness. While Mortdecai eventually runs out of gas, it gets fairly far on pure incident, especially when Depp gives in to absurdity instead of trying to manufacture it.


Ace with shocked reactions and fussy looks, Depp puts in an uncharacteristic effort to keep Charlie bouncing along in bad Brit teeth and perpetual disorientation. It’s a fun performance, hitting more than it misses, but when Depp whiffs, he screws himself into the dirt.


Mercifully, Paltrow and McGregor are also up to the challenge, adding their own ridiculousness to the mix as Martland fumbles over himself to entice Johanna into adultery, and Bettany is pleasing as brute Jock, successfully managing a running gag where the manservant beds any gorgeous woman he sees.


Koepp forgets that brevity is comedy’s best friend, and the production doesn’t quite know how to land, but the take-off is confident enough to make a positive impression, and the picture provides what will likely be the most enjoyable mass regurgitation sequence of 2015 (though, to be fair, I’m not sure what Star Wars: The Force Awakens has planned).


Mortdecai is periodically tasteless, exaggerated, and often doesn’t know when to quit, but it does have spirit. However, if you have an allergy to pure goofballery, spend your Depp bucks elsewhere.

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