Review by © Jane Freebury
An upper-class twit played by Johnny Depp? Why not. As Lord Mortdecai, mortgaged to the hilt to maintain his magnificent pile in the counties, he has handy expertise in the visual arts and can recognise a forgery when Russian hitmen, Syrian terrorists and English coppers can’t. So he agrees to hunt down a mysterious Goya that’s gone missing, to help out his mate in M15 (Ewan McGregor).
With a couple of other class acts like Gwyneth Paltrow as Lady Mortdecai and Paul Bettany as Jock his manservant, you’d think this could be a goer as an action comedy. However, it’s not long into things before the eye begins to start checking the time.
Much of the humour depends on Depp sending up his own character, a tactic in this actor’s hands that earned squillions for the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Surely it’s time he left his over-worked odd-ball screen persona behind and did something different? Now that light touch that drove audiences to the box office to see Jack Sparrow in 2003 has a deliberate and calculated feel, and is undermined by pretty dreadful writing.
The filmmakers obviously thought that a daft English dandy would be hilarious. Mortdecai tells Jock that their escape at high speed in Moscow was ‘dashed exhilarating’, then instructs him to hasten to the British Embassy ‘chop, chop’ before the Russian thugs find them again. People are referred to as ‘old beans’ or ‘silver-tongued scalliwags’ and there’s plenty more. Maybe the joke works in some markets in the world, but it sounds very tired here. Besides, humour at the expense of the English is probably best left to them and the Rowan Atkinsons and John Cleeses of this world. Another tired joke is Mortdecai’s moustache, recently cultivated, to which he is very attached. He won’t shave it off, even to get his gorgeous wife to sleep with him again.
Director David Koepp has quite a Hollywood pedigree. His filmography glitters with co-writer credits like Jurassic Park, Million: Impossible and War of the Worlds, but he has done a lot less directing. He directed Depp in a modest film called Secret Window that came and went in 2003, another strange collaboration that did the actor few favours.
Despite its $60 million budget, it’s hard to imagine a sequel to Mortdecai, unless it does brilliantly in the rest of the world, even if there’s plenty more ‘Mortdecai’ comic thriller novels where this came from. It all comes down to the fact that as a comedy it’s a major mis-step for Depp. Koepp’s rigorous direction with abrupt and laboured location changes, ostentatious zooms in and out, and general heavy handedness could all be forgiven if he had managed to make us laugh a lot.
In a capsule: A major comic misfire for Johnny Depp who hams it up as an upper class twit more fond of his moustache than his wife, even if she is Gwyneth Paltrow.