“Johnny Depp is Mortdecai!” proclaimed the posters promoting this latest star vehicle for the prolific actor. That much is certainly true – Depp is the film, or at least, the only reason for this bizarre, misjudged and pointless romp to exist. A vanity piece from top to bottom, the film struggles to find a purpose as it trudges from set piece to set piece. These occasionally well constructed scenes serve to provide more opportunities for Depp to wear out his trademark tics and oblivious bemusement which have blighted cinema screens for the best part of a decade.
Mortdecai’s plot centres around our titular hero and his hangers-on, who are attempting to recover a stolen painting in an adventure that takes them around the world from London to Moscow and even to Oxford. Yet this plot is really just the means to contrive scenes for the talented cast to raise their eyebrows sarcastically and wink at the audience. It’s thoroughly unsatisfying.
The film has absolutely no sense of danger – Mortdecai is the film, so his success is unquestionable. A particularly ridiculous scene sees our hero jump through a window several stories up, only to bounce up off the street below completely unharmed. This cartoon-like quality attempts to heighten the film’s comedy, but merely acts to rob the thin narrative of any excitement. Worse still, a late third act reveal negates the purpose of almost the entire preceding hour. Not only does the film insult the audience’s intelligence, it undermines their good-will too.
Ostensibly a comedy, though you’d be forgiven for not knowing it, Mortdecai’s ill-founded faith in the lovability of both its protagonist and its lead actor is almost tragic. No one has wanted to see Depp in these films since Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, as attested to by the abysmal reception the film received at the box office. It’s almost heartbreaking to see such a great film actor drowning under a lazy performance that’s more irritating than engaging. Furthermore, the film never seems to give us a reason to like Mortdecai – he’s a bumbling incompetent aristocrat clinging to notions of his masculinity as much as he is his inherited title and squandered wealth. It’s very hard to care.
The out-of-place aristocrat trope gives the film a farcical sensibility, particularly in one of the film’s more amusing sojourns to Los Angeles, whilst whizzy CGI scene transitions illustrate the globe trotting exploits of our protagonist. Presumably an attempt to liven up the film’s theatricality, their distracting cheapness ends up detracting from the film’s other limited stylistic aspirations. Amongst the starry supporting cast, Gwyneth Paltrow is perfectly cast as Mortdecai’s haughty high society wife. She plays perhaps the film’s most engaging character, with her defining motivation being to rid her husband’s visage of his ludicrous moustache – understandable if trivial. Her incredible line reading of “darling they are in cahoots” was one of the two laughs the film got from this reviewer.
Poorly conceived and ultimately exhausting, Mortdecai is a waste of talent, money and most importantly your time. Hopefully the film’s failure will encourage Depp to return to the arthouse, so we’ll be saved from watching as he, just like the character of Mortdecai, degrades himself for big cheque after big cheque.